KUCHING: Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan was shocked to find that youths in Sarawak, including students, were taking the prescription drug, Nospan, to get high.
He promised immediate action against those involved.
"It is alarming to know about the abuse of such a drug," said Musa, after chairing a meeting with heads of department at the Sarawak police headquarters yesterday.
Nospan, also known by its generic name Dextromethorphan HBr, is a cough medicine derived from codeine. It comes in tablet form.
Its side-effects include dizziness, confusion and depression.
The New Straits Times spoke to a 19-year-old student who started taking the pill when he was 17.
Then, he only took four or five pills. Now, he needs about 18 to get the same effect.
"For RM10, I can get 18 pills. We normally take some cheap liquor to get high faster," he said.
"Normally, the high would last for three to six hours."
An 18-year-old college student said he only tried it once and it had a psychedelic effect on him.
"I took five of the pills with beer. Next thing I knew, I was hallucinating."
A doctor said an overdose could result in the brain sending a message to the body that it need not breathe.
"In other words, you just stop breathing," he said.
The abuse of Nospan pills among youths in Sarawak is well known among locals. Its popularity gave Golden Boyz, an underground hip-hop band, the idea for a song entitled Nospan.
A police source said the pills were being sold in packets of 18 for RM10 and were easily available.
"Some users buy smaller amounts, like five tablets, and pharmacies will not even check their personal particulars for the purchases," the source said.
Some convenience stores also sell the pills illegally.
In August, two men were arrested in front of a shopping complex with 6,186 Nospan pills.
The two -- a 41-year-old businessman and a 19-year-old -- were believed to have been waiting for their pushers to get their supply to be repackaged and sold in the streets.
At the same time, the State Narcotics Department seized 9,552 psychotropic pills under Ops Nospan.
Nineteen people were arrested and some have been charged under the Poisons Act.
Sarawak narcotics chief Superintendent Moses Agat said the Nospan pills were made in Peninsular Malaysia and brought in by sea.
He said the syndicates were targeting students, both as users and pushers.
Sixty-one secondary school students from five schools in the city were detained for possession and consuming the pills in the last seven months.
Sarawak Health Department pharmacy enforcement division chief Deputy Director Abu Hassan Al-Shaari Abd Jaafar said several pharmacies had been closed down for violating regulations governing the sale of prescription drugs.