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A Cough Syrup Epidemic In India

Two men were arrested for the illegal and unlicensed sale of cough syrup in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. A smuggled consignment of cough syrup was seized at the Bangladesh border on the same day. The cases bring to light the rising problem of codeine dependency in India.

A man consuming cough syrup
Representative image of a person consuming a Codeine based cough syrup (Source: AFP)

The Gujarat Police on Wednesday arrested 2 men accused of selling bottles of cough syrup as intoxicants, without a license. 4942 bottles of cough syrup worth a total of more than 5.5 lakh rupees were seized from the accused. According to officials of the state monitoring cell, the accused men Kiransinh Chauhan and Mihir Patel are both residents of Bavla taluka in rural Ahmedabad. A statement by the Gujarat police read,

“We had received a complaint that for the past many months, sale of cough syrup bottles as intoxicants were being done in Bavla and Sanand talukas of Ahmedabad rural without any license. A joint team of Food and Drugs department and state monitoring cell raided a godown behind APMC market in Bavla which belonged to Kiransinh and seized 1,169 bottles worth Rs 1.28 lakh.”

The other accused, Mihir Patel was found in possession of 3,773 bottles of cough syrup worth 4.4lakh rupees. While Krishnasinh kept the illegal stock of bottles in his go-down, Mihir Patel used his home to store them. Both individuals were booked under the Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic substances Act. The bottles were being sold in retail by the accused for the past one year. The medicines were being sold for their intoxicating properties. The cough syrup being sold contained codeine phosphate, raxogent-T and APDYL-T syrup.

In a separate case on the same day, the Border Security Force in West Bengal seized 1000 codeine based cough syrup bottles while they were being smuggled into Bangladesh. The bottles were found in the Malda District of West Bengal. The BSF acted on an anonymous tip-off and increased personnel at the Shobhapur Border outpost. The package was found drifting towards Bangladesh and was seized by a team using a speed boat. The bottles were worth 1.69 lakh rupees and were being smuggled into Bangladesh for use as intoxicants. The neighbouring country has a complete ban on alcohol making codeine based syrup use rampant.

Codeine, the substance in cough syrup that gives it the intoxicating effect, has been the subject of a lot of controversy all around the world. Consumption of this opioid medication causes drowsiness, confusion and nausea, a sensation that cough syrup abuse victims seek. The effect of the substance leads to addiction and health complications among users. Cases of codeine based cough syrup abuse especially came to light in Nigeria where it became the second most commonly abused prescription drug in 2016. The problem has grown over time with 21% of all drug users in the country found consuming cough syrup. The Nigerian Senate announced in 2019 that 3 million bottles of the syrup were consumed on a daily basis in 2 states in the north of the country alone.

Many other countries such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom have seen a rise in cases of opioid abuse through cough syrup containing codeine with the UK considering a complete ban on over-the-counter codeine. A similar move by the Indian Government while the matter is still under some level of control will help prevent a large number of addiction cases. Further, the narcotics bureau must increase surveillance on pharmaceutical companies and distribution systems of cough syrup to pin-point more such cases.

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