Nigeria’s cough syrup problem: Emzor suspends distribution

Emzor Pharmaceuticals has suspended distribution of its cough syrup, following a BBC investigation into its role in an addiction epidemic, even as it has dismissed a company executive who was caught selling 60 bottles of cough syrup to an undercover reporter.

The syrup, containing the highly addictive opioid, codeine, is used by young Nigerians, especially in the northern part of the country, to get high.

The documentary has also prompted a response from the first lady, Aisha Buhari, who said in an Instagram post she was “deeply saddened” by the rise of the problem, especially in the north of Nigeria.

“I call on all security agencies, lawmakers, judiciary, drug manufacturers, civil society, regulators, teachers, parents, neighbours and you to take this as a personal war and halt the menace,” she added.

The medication is legal, but it is against the law to sell it to people without a doctor’s prescription or those who do not have a pharmaceutical licence.

The BBC’s undercover team caught the Emzor executive boasting he could sell “one million cartons” in a week on the black market.

The Nigerian Senate estimates that as many as three million bottles of codeine syrup are drunk every single day in just two states, Kano and Jigawa.

But Emzor told the BBC its representative only had access to a very limited amount of its brand of syrup, Emzolyn with codeine, and could not sell large quantities illegally.

Emzor has now released a statement on Facebook, announcing the suspension and emphasising its commitment to the proper “handling, production, storing and distribution of products containing codeine”.

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