Empowering pharmacists to check drug misuse, abuse in Nigeria
Worried by the growing incidence of drug abuse and misuse, pharmacists under the aegis of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) have called for the urgent empowerment of members to check the menace.
The pharmacists who made the call at the Third Ladipo Mobolaji Abisogun- Afodu Annual Lecture in Pharmacy Trust Fund held by the Office of Advancement and the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Lagos (UNILAG) include: Dean Faculty of Pharmacy, UNILAG, Prof. Glory Ajayi; President, PSN, Sam Ohuabunwa; and Chairman of the occasion, Prof. Fola Tayo. The pharmacists were joined by a consultant paediatrician and Provost, College of Medicine University of Lagos (CMUL), Prof. Foluso Ebun Afolabi Lesi, who was also the Keynote Address Speaker.
Ohuabunwa decried the recent embarrassment to the country by the international Codeine scandal.
Ohuabunwa said there is so much misuse and abuse with varying morbidities and mortalities, most unreported. He argued: “Opioid analgesics like tramadol are imported in containers and released to the market and Nigerian youth are getting hooked. So like the fake drug issue, who is to blame for the high incidence?”
The pharmacist said the answers would be as varied depending on “who you ask, sometimes with disproportionate blame on the victims.” Ohuabunwa said, for him, the official and legal custodians of drugs- pharmacists, their professional associations and their regulatory agencies- Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) and the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) can not absolve themselves completely.
To be sure, he said, there are genuine hindrances to the ability of the pharmacists and regulatory agencies to do more and frontally confront this menace. Ohuabunwa said first and perhaps the biggest obstacle today is the distressing delay in signing the Pharmacy Council of Nigeria Bill into law. He said this bill was passed by both houses of the National Assembly in late 2017 and despite the best effort, it was not accented to by the President till the end of the 8th National Assembly due to seen and unseen forces that do not want to empower the pharmacists and the regulatory agencies to sanitise the drug distribution pipeline in Nigeria.
Ohuabunwa said this law in the view of pharmacists is the singular most important instrument required to frontally confront the problems of drug misuse and abuse in Nigeria. “We use this medium to once again implore the President to sign this bill if the government truly wants to stem this mess. Secondly, beyond the Pharmacy bill, there are other secondary drug control legislation and regulations that need to be put in place,” he said. The pharmacists said the PSN in liaison with the regulatory agencies are working with the National Assembly to enact the new laws.
Thirdly, he said, it is becoming increasingly important that the pharmacist must play more central role in the work of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
Ohuabunwa said one could not be looking for narcotics, psychotropic drugs and other hard drugs without the professional who has been trained to identify and recognise these substances even from the distance. He said every meaningful effort to control drugs-legitimate or illicit, hard or soft must have the pharmacists in the centre to fully achieve the objectives and this point should be obvious to all well-meaning people.
Fourthly, Ohuabunwa said acute poor resourcing of the pharmaceutical regulatory agencies remains a major inhibitory factor since Nigeria is a large country to police, therefore, budgetary provisions for PCN and NAFDAC must be vastly enhanced to procure adequate human and material resources to effectively cover the Nigerian geographical space.
Fifthly, the PSN President said, the poor and discriminatory remuneration and limited career opportunities for Pharmacists in these and other public health institutions must be remedied to provide the needed motivation for pharmacists to undertake the critical job of safeguarding the health of Nigerian drug consumers and preventing morbidities and mortalities traceable to drug misuse and abuse.
Ohuabunwa, however, said it must be clear to all that fighting these maladies carry a lot of risk. He explained: “We all remember how Prof Dora Akunyili nearly lost her life in the battle against fake drugs merchants.”
Sixthly, the pharmacist said Nigeria must find a way to provide the proper and highly needed executive political will and support for effective ring-fencing of the pharmaceutical space to admit only those qualified and licensed to legally operate, following orderly guideline. He said perhaps the appointment of a pharmacist, as the Minister of Health someday will provide the way out.
Ohuabunwa said his take is that these problems are not insurmountable and he believes the call is for a new approach to ensuring that professional pharmacists take full responsibility as custodians of medicines in Nigeria, ensuring only responsible access to bring down the current level of damage caused by unbridled access and consequent misuse and abuse. “I believe that the support of the governments of Nigeria and other healthcare professionals should be taken as granted,” he said.
The PSN President called for pharmacists to rise up and take full control of the pharmaceutical space. “I am looking forward to the day when every medicinal tablet, capsule, syrup, or injection taken or given to any patient or consumer can be traceable to a pharmacist (directly or indirectly). That will be the day when the incidence of drug misuse and abuse will have been brought under check. I solicit the support of Governments of Nigeria, all healthcare professionals, non-governmental organizations such as the Ladipo Mobolaji Abisogun – Afodu Annual lecture in Pharmacy Trust Fund and indeed all well-meaning Nigerians,” he said.