Why R50 million worth of Codeine?

Last week on BizNews ex–Springbok Hannes Strydom and forensic consultant Paul O Sullivan ripped the veil off a Carte Blanche “expose” to reveal the machinations of a criminal cabal inside Strydom’s pharmacy business. The cabal allegedly stole R50 million of codeine based products to sell on the black market. Why codeine cough mixtures ? Because they are a highly addictive opioid in SA’s poorer communities.

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By Dirk Hartford

The codeine cough mixtures which fuelled the criminal syndicates estimated R50 million heist is South Africa’s version of the USA’s fentanyl/oxycontin crisis, particularly in our poor communities.

Codeine is a cheap opioid and our version of cheap opioids are nayope, whoonga (both contain heroin) and codeine cough mixtures.

The abuse of codeine cough mixtures is a national epidemic in Nigeria and South Africa is not far behind. The limited research available indicates that a quarter of SA users are buying it legally for recreational use.

Codeine cough mixtures are regulated under the Medicines Act and can only be legally sold by registered pharmacists. Buyers of the syrup have to show their ID and sign a register. The SA Health Products Regulatory Authority is aware of illicit sales and is attempting to monitor it mainly by conducting inspections at pharmacies selling high volumes. The extent of the underground illegal market is completely unknown but is thought to be massive.

The main reason for this is its easy accessibility. Literally thousands of bottles of codeine syrup litter Inner city areas like Hillbrow and Yeoville as well as townships throughout the country. There are at least 4 brands of codeine cough mixture with Bron Clear and Beneline among the most popular.

Codeine syrup is effective against pain and for suppressing coughs but is addictive when misused. It is taken neat or mixed with a variety of cool drinks like Sprite and Coke as well as with alcohol if affordable. A bottle costs anything between R20 and R80 on the black market with some township based pharmacies also selling it at those prices

The downers it generates are colloquially called lean as its effects cause users to lean or slump. Its extolled in popular local hip hop hits like “I feel it” by 21 Savage who rap “Everywhere we go we clean, She want me to quit that lean, Baby I can’t quit that lean, Put a ring around codeine”.

Social media like Tik Tok and Instagram are super spreaders of the myriad ways in which to use it with postings trying to outdo each other with new cocktails for getting high. Because it is sweet and mixed with cold drinks it is both tasty to young people and its use can be easily disguised. School children are even drinking it at school because its virtually undetectable.

I addition to its addictive properties, there can be serious health consequences through long term misuse including gastric ulcers and inflammatory bowel conditions, gastrointestinal bleeding and mental health problems. Dangers of overdosing are described by users as similar to getting extremely drunk, with all the risky behaviour that implies, to the point of unconsciousness.

Read more: BHI Ponzi: Day-trading Ferrari, jet owner Warriner took clients for R3bn

An account of the effects of Codeine

Edited transcript of the account

“When I first tried codeine, I didn’t know much about it, just what I’d seen in Yeoville. I was at a spaza shop with some friends during my druggy days, though I wasn’t on it at the time. I was using a lot of harder stuff and weed. One day, while waiting for a weed delivery, I noticed a group of guys at the shop with bottles and bottles of codeine. They mixed it with a soft drink of their choice like Fanta, orange, grape, or apple juice. They would “lam”, they called it “lamming.” They would get really drowsy and high, and would just lean against the wall, looking drowsy and drooling. The one bottle doesn’t contain much codeine, so I guess they drank the whole thing. That was my first encounter with codeine.

“Later in life, I was feeling severely depressed and anxious, unable to sleep. I wanted to escape my thoughts, like how hard drugs make you think too much. I went to a party, and a guy was drinking codeine. I asked him about it, and he said it made him feel good and nice. He mixed it with apple juice, and I decided to try it. The first time I did, it matched my feelings, bringing instant calmness, like the drowsiness you get from a sleeping pill or heavy painkillers. I felt myself leaning into the couch, relaxed, and strangely sensual. It was as if the medicine was cradling my depression, making me feel at home, like a comforting blanket. That’s what it felt like.”

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