AN OPIOID epidemic is gaining a foothold in South Africa. The abuse of pain relievers and synthetic opioids has caused havoc in communities across the US where an average of 90 people die daily of overdoses.
Locally, life-threatening over the counter (OTC) schedule medication is being sold in increasing quantities by pharmacies across the country despite efforts to clamp down on sales.
In Durban, it was found that Broncleer was the most abused OTC cough syrup, with one person able to buy 10 bottles in a single purchase.
The New Age went out to investigate how easy it was to purchase Broncleer cough medicine. At a supermarket pharmacy in Midrand Broncleer was sold without a prescription at a cost of R50 which was almost triple the price elsewhere.
The pharmacist wasn’t hesitant to sell this reporter the medication, but when a till slip was requested he became suspicious. “I was doing you a favour, I shouldn’t be just selling you this.
You won’t get it anywhere else. “Why do you need the till slip, who is the medication for?” he said. At a Clicks pharmacy, it was not as easy to buy the medication.
Personal information was requested and the pharmacist on duty refused to give the reporter the medication without personal details.
A bottle of Broncleer retailed at R16.80 at Clicks. The pharmacist warned that the cough syrup posed a health risk if the dosage was incorrect.
Fredrick Magocha, who is a compiling a documentary on drugs and substance abuse, said he found in his research a trend in cough syrups being sold to individuals which gave them the cheapest alternative to “a high” at a cost of sometimes R20 a bottle.
Magocha said the medication was too easily available and wanted the government to intervene. “This syrup is as addictive as nyaope and the after effects are similar,” he said.
Adcock Ingrams’ Kavitha Kalicharan said every sale must be recorded in a prescription book with the personal details of the purchaser.
“Adcock Ingram is supportive of the responsible use of the medicines we manufacture and especially those containing codeine,” he said.
According to tablet wise website, Broncleer codeine cough syrup is used for insomnia, common colds, airway irritation, patients with metabolic alkalosis, relief of mild to moderately severe pain and other conditions.
“The main concern with opioid overdose is respiratory depression, and excessive or prolonged overdosing could lead to coma or even death,” Kalicharan said. Jackie Maimin, the acting CEO of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association, said “because codeine is less stringently regulated than other opiates such as morphine and oxycodone, acquiring and abusing it is comparatively easy.
Though less potent, codeine provides effects similar to morphine”. “As an opiate, codeine use has a high risk of its users developing a tolerance and eventually a dependence on it.
Although many people begin using codeine to relieve a legitimate condition, regular use leads to abuse as tolerance develops and some codeine users turn to the drug to cope with physical pain and eventually their emotional pain as well,” Maimin said.
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