Buying prescription drugs over the counter poses grave dangers. The authorities should mount campaigns to create awareness
It is a notorious fact that Nigerians hardly pay attention to health issues until they become an emergency. One major fall-out of the recent Cynthia Osokogu sensational murder in a Lagos hotel by her Facebook friends is the ease with which people can lay their hands on drugs, no matter how dangerous. It is now on public record that the suspected killers of Cynthia confessed that they bought the drug – Rohypnol (a prescription drug used in the treatment of insomnia) which they injected into her drink, from over-the-counter (OTC) store. While it is legal for a pharmacist to sell such drug, it has to be on the patient’s presentation of a doctor’s prescription.
But this is not an isolated incident. Indeed in many cases, the practice across the country today is to sell prescription drugs without prescription as many people rely on self medication mainly because they want to bypass the cost of seeing a doctor. In some instances, especially in the rural areas, the doctors are also not readily available so the people are practically left to their own devices. What then happens is that in most cases, the drug store attendant does the prescription, with the risk that the medication may not be appropriate or the dose, incorrect.
“Our health care system is such that many medications that should rightly come under prescription drugs are sold in the open market as over-the-counter drugs,” says Emma Eneukwu, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) National Publicity Secretary. Even worse, many of the drugs sold are fake, substandard or expired and could put people’s health at risk. It was, for instance,discovered from raids on some of these drug stores in the past that many of the drugs contained too much or too little of the active ingredients. Some of the drugs are sold at kiosks or store, motor parks and market places, and most often, by illiterates.
The drug trade is indeed lucrative and like many things Nigerian, has become an all comers affair. Many of these drug stores are kept in business by large scale importation by individuals and corporate bodies from Europe, India and China yet the Director–General of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Dr. Joseph Odumodu admiited recently that about 85 percent of the imports –from electric cables to drugs- are substandard. But the implications are often dire. According to him: “Once you patronise a substandard product, you are indirectly killing our local industry and by extension endangering your lives and that of others.”
Following a recent raid on illegal drug and counterfeit stores, Lagos State Health Commissioner, Dr. Jide Idris, said the exercise was necessary to rid the state of illegal drug stores and to sanitise the drug distribution system. He urged persons and organisations interested in importation, distribution and sale of drugs to licence their premises through the Pharmacist Council of Nigeria.
What the foregoing suggests is that there is an urgent need to set up a water-tight regulatory framework in the drug administration environment. In addition, we ask all professional bodies in our healthcare delivery system, and indeed the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), to get involved in the campaigns to stop this careless indulgence combined with abundant ignorance. There has to be a consistent effort to alert the people to the risks of self medication and reinforce the need for them to patronise the right health institutions.
The Consumer Protection Council, the government agency saddled with protecting the public from unreasonable risks and injury should also be alive to its responsibilities. Many people are into the business of illegal sales and importation of counterfeit drugs evidently because sanctions are not being applied when the law is breached. There has to be an end to this impunity.