Codeine cough-syrup addiction crisis looms in SA

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A codeine cough-syrup crisis looms for South Africa’s teens, and despite a spike in the addiction rate and pleas for action from schools and governing body associations, there is seemingly no plan to quell the scourge, reports The Times.

Rehab centres have been inundated with children hooked on the drug. Mixing codeine-based cough syrups with soft drinks to make a concoction called “lean” or “purple”, which mimics a heroin high, teens emulate the drug abuse long glamorised by rap stars.

The report says the latest statistics from the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (Sacendu) reveal that the number of teens seeking help for addiction doubled from 79 in 2017 to 184 in 2018.

“(This is) possibly indicative of a growing problem in the under-18s, plus a 24% increase in the proportion of people coming to treatment for codeine misuse in general,” said Professor Charles Parry of Sacendu’s Drug Research Unit. And with the household drug being bought and sold with ease, regulatory bodies and arms of the state, though aware of the problem, can’t stem the tide.

The report says 15 rehab centres contracted across South Africa confirmed that teens were regularly admitted for codeine addiction. Sheryl Rahme, of the Changes Treatment Centre in Johannesburg, described the issue as a “pandemic”.

Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said in the report that officials were “working with relevant stakeholders” to mitigate the problem. But, the report says, Health Department spokesperson Popo Maja did not respond to numerous attempts to get comment.

Retailers Dis-Chem, Pick n Pay and Clicks all acknowledged the high abuse potential of codeine products, insisting their dispensing of these was carefully controlled.

The Times report

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