Nigeria is currently engaged in a crisis of addiction. The source of their woes might come as a surprise to many. Codeine fueled cough syrup is the street drug of choice, and its popularity has resulted in high rates of crime, a staggering number of user deaths, and seemingly insurmountable challenges for the country’s law enforcement. Produced by BBC News Africa, Sweet, Sweet Codeine chronicles the effects of this ravaging epidemic and the desperate attempts to combat them.
Cough syrup is highly addictive and easily attainable. Over 3 million bottles are consumed and abused on a daily basis in just two of the country’s states. Long-term users suffer from schizophrenia, organ failure and eventual death. In Nigeria, the situation has become so dire that the government has mounted a full scale War on Syrup, and has commissioned drug enforcement agents from other regions to assist them in their efforts.
Cough syrup might be legal in Nigeria, but it cannot be procured without a doctor’s prescription. In order to determine how large amounts of the syrup are making their way to the streets, the filmmakers embark on a potentially dangerous undercover investigation. They trace the origins of distribution to a large pharmaceutical company. From there, the syrup is sold to dealers and pharmacists, and is soon distributed on the black market. Children and young students are a prime target for these dealers.
Not all pharmacists are willing to play with their customer’s lives. Those who follow the letter of the law must secure their places of business like fortresses in order to repel a growing population of impulsive addicts.
Mass quantities of cough syrup are seized and destroyed by the government on an ongoing basis. But it’s not enough. The syrup continues to flow in the streets like water, and officers are frequently the victims of unspeakable brutality at the hands of drug gangs.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of young addicts are flooding into local detention centers. Their withdrawal symptoms are horrific, but for the time being, they’re lucky to be alive.
Sweet, Sweet Codeine is an unflinching look at the perils of a drug epidemic.
Directed by: Charlie Northcott