The non-medical and illicit use of three pharmaceutical drugs, Benylin cough syrup made from codeine, rohypnol with the generic name of flunitrazepam and tramadol, is spreading among a number of young people living within certain local communities .
A preliminary investigation by Ghana Business News revealed that these drugs are mixed in cocktail form and taken just to get high or euphoric. What is worrying is that these drugs are easily accessible to young people in community pharmacies with the active connivance of pharmacists and their support staff, who are aware that these young people are regular customers.
During monitoring of one such pharmacy near Nungua Market and Krowor Municipality Transport Terminal in the Greater Accra Region, we found that Benylin Codeine Cough Syrup did not is not stored openly alongside other cough syrups on the shelves, but kept apart and only distributed to a certain class of young people, mostly men, and mostly nationals of one of Ghana’s neighboring countries in West Africa.
The cost of Benylin cough syrup is very high and is sold for more than a hundred Ghanaian cedis in this pharmacy. It is usually distributed along with rohypnol and tramadol to these young men, who appear to be unemployed and are usually seen hanging out in groups within the Krowor community. Obviously, the sale of these drugs seems to be a very profitable business for some pharmacies.
Ghana Business News has previewed an Executive Instrument (EI167) 2018, under the signature of the Ghanaian Minister of Health, detailing restrictions on the importation, manufacture and registration of cough syrups containing codeine and also addressing tramadol abuse.
EI highlights the safety threats that the effects and abuse of these opioids pose to the public and adds that there are other cough syrups with less addictive potential than codeine-based syrups. .
The IE therefore prohibits codeine cough syrups such as Benylin and Diphex syrups and adds that a person must not manufacture, import or offer for sale syrups containing codeine.
There are strong indications to suggest that there is a vibrant supply chain inside and outside Ghana working in obscurity with a number of pharmaceutical companies and people who get these drugs from manufacturers and suppliers to consumers, who are mostly young men within the local communities.
Dr. Anthony Ameka, Executive Secretary of the National Chamber of Pharmacy of Ghana, in an interview with Ghana Business News, said the Chamber is working closely with the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) to combat some of these activities. illegal dealings that take place between companies. operating in the pharmaceutical industry.
The chamber, a private entity, is an association of the pharmaceutical industry and it is made up of commercial operators and companies among other key players who work together to promote pharmaceutical growth that supports national development.
Although the FDA and the Pharmacy Council are in charge of the regulation and sanitation of the pharmaceutical industry, the lack of adequate resources and logistics is a challenge for these regulators in enforcing regulations in the industry. The chamber therefore has a role to play in helping to combat negative practices within the sector.
Dr Ameka explained that the chamber has supported the FDA to clean up the sector and has been involved in alerting and sharing information with the FDA whenever there is information available indicating a company is involved. in practices that compromise the pharmaceutical industry.
According to him, the chamber also conducts research from time to time to check which pharmaceutical companies are involved in the sale of unregistered pharmaceutical drugs.
Despite checks to regulate the pharmaceutical sector with a number of countries in Africa and elsewhere banning the use of drugs such as rohypnol and codeine-based cough syrups, there are worrying reports of a growing trend in the abuse of some of these drugs.
Recent reports indicate that young men in other African countries such as Nigeria and Kenya are also experiencing the same wave of abuse of opioid drugs such as codeine-based cough syrups, tramadol, including rohypnol amidst a thriving supply chain and distribution channels of outside regions. Both Africa and Asia seem to be the suppliers.
These activities present serious security threats due to the strong association of crime with illicit drug use among unemployed youth in Africa.
In Ghana, tramadol has also been reclassified as a prescription drug. Codeine is an addictive alkaloid narcotic used as a hypnotic, analgesic and antitussive drug that inhibits or suppresses coughing and tramadol is a synthetic opioid analgesic.
However, opioids such as tramadol and codeine are highly addictive, with serious medical implications when used improperly or for non-medical purposes.
For example, tramadol is an opioid analgesic that acts on the central nervous system to treat moderate to severe pain, however, when taken for non-medical reasons and in higher doses, it produces effects similar to the use of hard narcotics, which has serious health consequences.
Rohypnol has also gained a bad reputation and is known to be used as a date rape drug and abused for various purposes including its use for the purpose of rape as it can be used to drug an individual and renders the person unable to remember events under the influence of drugs and can therefore be used illicitly for sexual assaults. Medically, rohypnol has long-lasting sedative effects and is used as a hypnotic and as a premedication for anesthesia. There are also reports suggesting that it is also used by cocaine addicts to relieve side effects. The drug affects the body by acting as a muscle relaxant, but impairs mental functions and is also addictive among others.
By Eunice Menka
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