Codeine: The Cough Syrup Ingredient that is Silently Turning Kenyan Youth to Junkies


Earlier this year, the Kenya Pharmacy and Poisons Board (KPPB) banned all pharmacies from selling codeine-based cough syrups without a doctor’s prescription.

Benylin Expectorant is one of the cough syrups with codeine

This is after it emerged that teens and young adults have turned to abusing the highly addictive drug, with some already being chronic addicts.

Well, the problem seems to be far from over. A random spot check shows that University students and young adults are still able to acquire the drug quite easily.

Some use fake prescriptions to dupe pharmacy attendants into selling them the syrups while others pay exorbitantly. 

A bottle used to go for as little as Ksh. 100 but youth readily pay up to Ksh. 1000 to obtain the same. 

Codeine is an opioid mostly used in the treatment of severe pain, coughs and diarrhoea. 

It is known to give users a “high,” making it a cheap substitute for costly hard drugs. 

The problem of codeine abuse is not just restricted to the Kenyan scene. Nigeria is grappling with codeine addiction among youth, especially from the north, where unemployment rates are high.

The BBC recently highlighted Nigeria’s codeine problem in a documentary titled Sweet Sweet Codeine. 

The documentary reveals how staff from major Nigerian pharmaceutical companies offer to sell codeine-based cough syrups illegally.

Back home, the KPPB gave marketers and authorisation agencies a window of six months within which to ensure packaging for medicines containing codeine must include “clear and prominently positioned warnings on the label and the importance of not taking these medicines for longer than three days.”

Side effects and symptoms of codeine abuse include:

  • Euphoria
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Dizziness or drowsiness
  • Schizophrenia 
  • Decreased appetite
  • Itching
  • Dry mouth
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory loss

Conitued abuse of codeine can lead to:

  • Kidney damage
  • Pancreatitis
  • Seizures 
  • Coma

If your loved one seems to have developed a liking for cough syrups they may be addicted and in need of abuse treatment as soon as possible.   


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