The death of Cynthia Osokoju,who was administered with Rohypnol, a prescription drug, has brought to light, the existing lapses in the sale of those drugs in the country. In this report, WINIFRED OGBEBO examines the issues.
More Nigerians die from wrong prescriptions, fake drugs and other unwholesome activities in the medical field than from accidents and even HIV/AIDS.
Not until the death of Cynthia Osokogu, nobody was in the know that some controlled drugs were being sold to the public despite the law in place.
The drug with which late Cynthia was drugged, Rohypnol, is a prescription drug, which is licensed, and can only be sold by pharmacists.
According to experts, medicines are like a double- edged sword that can enhance a person's well-being when used correctly or have debilitating effects on the health status when abused, misused or used inappropriately.
Rohypnol, used in the short term treatment of insomnia, is a licensed patent in Nigeria. It is legal for pharmacies to sell it although the normal procedure is that patients are to show prescription from doctors.
Though there is a regulatory framework under the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFADC), to curb the irresponsible dispensing of such drugs, many people still exploit the porous system to purchase such dangerous drugs.
The Chairman, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Abuja branch, Pharm Atumen Superior Odejoto, affirmed that there is a lot of drugs abuse and misuse going on everywhere; in the villages, towns and in the cities.
According to him, even educated people- doctors, lawyers, PhD holders and professors abuse drugs.
Many experts have called on the federal government to set up a water-tight surveillance system to ensure that prescription drugs are not sold in the open market.
Speaking on the theme: "Safe Use of Medicines", in a media roundtable last week, in Abuja, Pharm Odejoto, said the safe use of medicines is key and vital to the attainment of beneficial outcomes in the treatment and management of illnesses.
Basically, the classification of drugs/medicines is in three categories.
i. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, which are available in registered and licensed pharmacies without special restrictions.
ii. Behind-the-counter(BTC) or pharmacy medicines, which are recommended and disoensed by a pharmacist without needing a doctor's prescription.
iii. Prescription only medicines (POM), which must be prescribed by a licensed medical professional, usually a physician.
Commenting on the arrest of the two pharmacists for their role in Cynthia's death, the vice chairman, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria, Abuja Branch, Pharm Alkali Albert Kelong, said there is not enough information to say whether those boys actually bought those drugs with a prescription and whether they actually bought them from the pharmacists.
He maintained, "There is no licensed pharmacist that will just sell the drug, Rohypnol and give a patient without any concrete prescription. On that, I want to assure you that if you go to any registered chemist, we have a book, called poison book that we register all prescriptions that come to us and get the patient to sign for it."
"As a measure, Benylin with Codeine which is an old seizure but because there is current abuse in the society now, we decided to restrict its sale. We don't just give it to anybody. We are not compelled by law to sell with prescription but because of societal implication; the health issue that has risen as a result of Benylin. I want to assure Nigerians that registered pharmacists don't sell these prescription drugs to anybody like that."
But the Chairman, PSN, Abuja, bemoaned, "Presently, we have a situation where every Tom, Dick and Harry want to deal on drug because they see drugs as articles of trade while we professionals see them as highly specialized chemicals that should be handled with care. We have situations where drugs are bought in unlicensed shop and it will be reported that those drugs were bought in a pharmacy."
The Internal Auditor, PSN, Abuja, Pharm Abu Shehu, also added that Nigeria is the only country in Africa where drugs are sold in the supermarket even though the law clearly stipulates that drugs are not supposed to be sold in the open market.
He gave instances of what an open market is. "In Abuja, we have the Wuse Market. At Utako, there is an open market. In Udumota head bridge market, Onitsha and Ariaria market and of course, Sabongari Market, we have drugs being sold in containers. You can imagine the hot environment drugs are subjected to. Of course, they will degrade and they will not be effective."
Shehu said what is happening in Nigeria is as a result of lack of political will to implement the laws.
"We have government agencies that are responsible for that so they must live up to their responsibilities and rid Nigeria of this open drug market. The law is there. I think what we lack is the political will to implement these laws. Once we have the political will to implement these laws, the market will fold up and of course, so many things happen in this market; drug faking, drug counterfeiting and just name it. So what we are saying is that we want to use this medium to appeal to government and the agencies of government that are responsible to close down these illegal drug market because drugs are only supposed to be sold in registered premises, pharmacies. That is the only place where drugs are supposed to be sold."
Pharm Festus Iserherhien, canvassing for the closure of the open drug markets, said, "If you remember, during the time of Akunyili, those markets were closed down, but what happened? The political pressure made them to be opened again."
"We need to organize the pharmacies well; from a registered hospital- general or private. When it comes to the pharmacist, he identifies flaws in that prescription, he should be able to call that doctor to confirm if it's from him. That is the essence of pharmacist."
Though Atumen could not give the estimate of drug abuse, he maintained, "I can tell you that there are some deaths that do occur due to drug abuse but the statistics are not measurable. That tells you the extent, the damage to which this can lead to. It's amazing. But as it is now, we don't have adequate statistics as to who has died or something from the abuse or misuse of drugs. So there are no adequate statistics"
The vice chairman of the association, Abuja branch, Pharm Bridget Otote, noted, "It's difficult to have statistics when you don't have adequate patrol. The drugs are sold through various means. The Malams who carry drugs on their heads in the open sun is an open market, the people in the buses who hawk drugs or advertise is an open market. Those are the areas government has to take care of."
According to her, "As long as those areas are not taking care of, we cannot keep absolute record neither can we have correct statistics or anything. It's difficult to trace any of these ills to pharmacists when drugs are sold by virtually anybody in the country. So until we are able to have a proper control in place, we will not be able to maintain and have proper records in public health."