Nigeria’s Dangerous Street Drug Epidemic

Nigeria has a new, dangerous drug problem as cheap drugs, like codeine and morphine, threaten the country’s youth. BattaBox Presenter, Warri Pikin hits the streets of Lagos to find out.

“The reason I take codeine is because of the inspiration I take from it – I’m an artist, I get inspiration for my music, I go on a trip and feel on cloud nine,” explains a young Nigerian drug abuser.

Codeine is often found in cough medicine from local pharmacies, and they drug users then mix it with coke or other soda drinks for sweetness, called “Purple Drank” in American slang. The sweet taste allows the abuser to drink more.

Codeine (otherwise known as “Blunts” on the streets of Lagos), morphine, and Refnol belong to a class of drugs called Opiods, which are traditionally used to manage pain, but the drugs also have serious addictive qualties and are used by young men on the streets of Lagos to get high. In fact, codeine has been classified as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a “high potential for abuse.”

“I prefer codeine and smoking, I like to be on my own, it makes me feel calm,” says one young Nigerian man, who does not give his name.

“The way Nigeria is now, people don’t like drinking beer, because if you drink too much alcohol, you will end up in the gutter. But with codeine, anywhere you take it, you will get to your house,” explains one Nigerian youth who takes codeine.

The short-term effects include euphoria and altered consciousness, but long-term abuse can result in seizures, organ damage, and even death.

And Nigeria has a devastating problem with codeine sweeping the country. Nigeria’s Senate recently announced an addiction epidemic across the north, with an estimated 3 million bottles of codeine consumed across daily in major cities. In particular, girls in school, women displaced by Boko Haram, or just working women have become addicts, consuming up to ten bottles of cough syrup a day.

According to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, 2015 annual report – Nigeria’s North west had the most arrests for drug related offences. A total of 2,205 persons were arrested in the North West, and 1,785 arrests recorded in the South West where we put together our report for BattaBox.

Nigeria’s Senate President, Bukola Saraki, announced on Twitter:

“I am particularly worried about the drug menace in the Northern part of the country. It is the time that we recognize this problem and address it in a sensible manner. I will be pushing for the National Assembly to review all relevant laws on drug abuse. This will help to curb the widespread misuse of illegal and unsanitary substances. The Senate will engage with all relevant stakeholders as we initiate this process.”

It is a problem that has reached even into Nigeria’s entertainment industry, with Nollywood actresses such as Toyin Aimakhu admitting to drug abuse.

“I was losing touch with things that used to work for me because I was involved with negative habits like drugs, smoking, codeine. Codeine is very bad, it’s very bad. All these things were empowering my negative energy,” Toyin Aimakhu, star of “Love is in the Hair”, admitted.

Nigeria is often regarded as a transit point for drugs into Europe and America, but increasingly has a domestic drug problem. The country’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) makes regular arrests and drug seizures – waging a war on drugs, but the battle is far from over, and now spilling into the streets.

“I started taking drugs in Nigeria when something went down between me and my old man,” explains the Lagos youth. “A friend of mine was taking codeine and I asked to have a taste.”

The problem for Nigeria’s Drug authorities is that the pharmaceuticals are not illegal. And no one at the “Ghetto Republic 1759” is worried about being arrested:

“We buy it at the pharmacy, and on the condition of Nigeria like this, nobody asks why you buy it,” says the young Lagos guy. “We never have any issues with any police.”

What do you think about the drugs problem in Nigeria? Gist us in the comments below.


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  1. All pharmaceutical stores should never sell any opioid to anyone without a drug prescription from a registered doctor inclusive of his/her contact and place of work.

  2. Well packaged and informative. Kudos to Warri piking for delivery. Nigerian youths are caught up in a system that’s let everybody down. Drug abuse however is not the way out. I hope we do not go the way of America- where drugs ravaged black youths.

  3. I remember being in a pharmacy is abuja when these two teens came in to buy two cartons not bottles. Drug abuse has always been a problem but its visible now as the drugs such as gum, suko and other cheap drugs are increasingly consumed by the upper class, these used to be the street preserve. You still see people hawking chemicals on the streets of Lekki in plain transparent bottles and a lot of think its a local Hausa herb. No class, no profession no gender is immune to it.

  4. I never really noticed the codeine abuse thing in Lagos. But I got the shock of my life when I moved to Jalingo in 2013 The three years I spent there opened my eyes to the world of abuse of codeine, tramadol and the white liquid which I guess is formaldehyde. In the first few weeks I used to relax at a joint close to the hotel I stayed. I could see young girls drinking stuff out of coke or pepsi PET bottle. But each time I ask for the drinks at the counter, it was never ever available. I had to ask my staff in the office who now broke down whats up.
    Incidentally I headed the state office of one of the major Federal health agencies and my duties included dealing with aspects of distribution and abuse of substances. In the three years I spent there, I engaged in massive campaigns in secondary and tertiary institutions in the state often in conjuction with NYSC CDS groups attached to my office. I carried out routine mop up of these substances especially the high dose tramadol (above 50mg) which are prohibited in Nigeria to the best of my ability going as far as the Mambila plateau on several trips until my duty was completed there.
    Nigeria has also reclassified cough preparations with those substances as Prescription only drugs. But the issue at stake remains who dispenses what is prescribed in remote areas of the country where everyone depends on the local chemist if there is any. The importation of finished codeine based syrups is also prohibited to allow for effective monitiring of the distribution of the locally manufactured brands. We equall know how easy or difficult that can be. I rest my case here.

  5. Drug Abuse and misuse is a national menace and its gonna take collective efforts on all fronts to curb its destructive effects. All hands must be on deck to arrest this issue, else the society will pludge into oblivion. All pharmacists and healthcare providers must know and understand whai it means to abuse drugs and the laws biding the use of certain drugs in the Nigerian system.

  6. There is great need for control of these substances and rehabilitation of abusers. I hope the new laws do that.

  7. One major challenge to solving this issue is supply. BattaBox interviewed a registered pharmacy with a pharmacist in it. Most Nigerians access pharmaceuticals through patent medicine vendors (PMV) aka chemist. They exists in areas that pharmacies will find unprofitable and they get their drugs from large distributors in places like Idumota, Mushin, Onitsha Drug market, Sabon Gari in Kano. Regulation in these open markets are poor such that anyone can come in to buy anything, whether OTC or POM. Till date you can buy Valium in cartons in these places. Very wrong practice. As since the PMV and large distributors just want to make their money, they really don’t care who buys what as long as it’s paid for. The problem isnt new. Its just more rampant. As far back as 2007, a lady walked into a pharmacy I was in on Lagos Island and requested Benylin with Codeine. It seemed like a normal request. While looking for change for her, she opened the bottle and drank it in one gulp, took her change and walked out. From then on, all codeine containing drugs were hidden until there was justification for use. It will be hard to solve. I really don’t know how that should begin but with the low number of medical personnel across the country, we have a really big problem on our hands.

  8. well the abuse of codeine and it related drugs either in tabs or syrub as come to stay in Nigeria especially in the northern part, The federal government and NDLEA fails to act fast, after it as render millions of our youth useless is then they want to take action. poor government and her policy. four days ago i had a serious cough and i need a suppressant which is the codiene benelyn or expectorant the cost of drove me crazy and away, i can’t afford it and i was denied the sales thinking maybe am from NDLEA. This meneace won’t stop because it equivalent to hemp smoking even preferrable to it takers. and if federal government want to introduce arresting the youth, the prison yard will conjest.

  9. The drug abuse and misuse menace has long being the country. Even those we elected to sanitize the system are one way or the other addicted to one form of substance or the other. The regulatory system needs to be improved and enforced: in a interview I did on a UNODC project earlier this year, some of the key informants mentioned that we have good laws but it is not enforced, too many bottle necks they said.
    I move that there be more awareness programs in primary and secondary schools. I remember back in the days, I joined drug free club and it was very helpful, people became aware of harmful effects of drugs.
    More so, there should be stiffer census to musical contents produced; most of them are filled with lyrics on how drug use are cool and some go as far as portraying it…
    So many things to tackle but if awareness campaigns are encouraged, we would be able to reduce its widespread..

  10. You see girls waiting outside pharmacies in Abuja as they are blacklisted from buying Benylin. So they ask people going in to get it for them. They have greyish skin and hollow eyes. Most are middle class. One was a daughter of former chief of army staff yaradua.

  11. Some Nigeria politicians said in their houses they have codeine consumers, Almighty God is at work. I decided not make any children a friend neither go to close their gates.
    Please unprivilege Nigeria youths like me don’t allowed yourselves to be destroyed by those criminals children as a friends because codeine has taken over politicians children they have no good children to succeed them, prayer one day we wouldn’t see in Nigeria National Assembly or Governors of a states. I speaks for myself I hardly takes paracetamol ten 10th time in year talk more of addicts to any hard drugs and I don’t drinks beer or gin neither do I smoke yet when youths speaks they give it different meaning,

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