Opinion: The snare of a ‘Codeine Diet’


Saturdays in boarding school were the best days. The hours after Inspection were literally the freest and happiest moments of school life. If you had done your laundry the day before, you could play all you want within the hostel quadrangle, on the basketball court, hockey pitch or any little space that could contain a ‘four-man-post’.

Untill evening time when that annoying beagle bellows: time for labour.

This certain Saturday, I just wasn’t feeling up to it. I went, with my partner in crime (he’s a good man now), to the sick bay instead to take a bed. My complaint will be cough and I will ask for that cough syrup that is usually sweet. Normally, it takes a long time to find your medical card from the shelves were they are stacked without care; no, problems though, as that will help me spend more time away from the grass.

But this day was different. As though the heavens agreed with me that I did not deserve any labour, I found my card in record time, to the amusement of my friend who had not found his (in retrospect, I think he may have found it but re-inserted it into another pile).

To the stern nurse I went, without pleasure. She apparently did not hear my self-diagnosis of cough when I said it, neither did she take note of the prescription my eyes’ focus on the syrup bottle meant to convey.

Two injections, straight through the uppermost part of the gluteals. It wasn’t funny.

It wasn’t funny because I began to limp as she released my caregiver (yes, his own cough automatically disappeared and he stopped looking for his card) and I to go to the hostel. I had got freedom from manual labour but received a real problem. An absolutely unwanted one.

Thankfully, the limp lasted only as long as the manual labour lasted, but the rest of the day’s spontaneous fun – playing football in the dark, social night – was not for me. Had I been successful with getting my own prescription, it might have been the first steps to a dependence. Did I mention I knew the syrup was sweet because I had taken it on a previous visit to the clinic?

The young people today who have, unfortunately, become addicted to Codeine, a lawful ingredient in cough syrups, may have taken other routes but the sweetness and ease of availability of the syrup plays a big role. Then there are the bigger socio-economic issues of poverty, depression and idleness; an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, the saying goes. Unfortunate also is the praise of ‘a codeine diet’ in popular culture through music. ‘Science students’ is the dance track of the moment but for all of Olamide’s protestations to the contrary, it is a piece of art that has given a sense of assurance to young drug addicts.

But like the BBC documentary on the crisis shows, great damage is being done. From getting high from the sweetness of the ‘codeine diet’ many are now in chains swarmed by flies and looking lost. Thankfully, there are rehabilitation camps where some are getting help and some individuals like the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, have reacted with commitments to increase engagement and collaboration to combat the menace. Let us hope these efforts bear good fruit.

By Alexander O. Onukwue

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