How to outlaw counterfeit drugs in Nigeria
Drugs are medicines with physiological effects when taken which are used to treat illness, relieve a symptom or modify a chemical process in the body for specific purpose. On the other hand, fake drugs are drugs with low or wrong concentration of active ingredients, and in some cases with no active ingredient, packaged and marketed in deceptive manner. In clear terms, fake drugs are drugs which do not meet regulatory standards and approvals. Drug counterfeiters release these drugs for sale at ridiculously cheap prices. This illicit act of drug counterfeiting by some unscrupulous elements in the society is not only worrisome and disturbing to the original manufacturers of the authentic products but also of great concern to the food and drug administrator and regulator in the country.
In order to arrest the awkward trend of these counterfeiters, a Federal Government agency made a renewed commitment to eliminate substandard foods and drugs in the country. The responsibility for eliminating falsified, adulterated and unsafe drugs, medical devices, food and water in Nigeria lies on the shoulder of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). The Director-General of NAFDAC, Professor Mojisola Adeyeye, when she officially resumed office as the agency’s boss in December last year, said “The concerns of our people are mainly about safety of our drugs, food, medical devices and water.” She added, “Most people, including those who manufacture fake drugs and sell bad foods or water, do not plan to kill people, but may not fully understand that chemicals (be they in drug or food or through bio-contamination) can kill hundreds of people easily.”
As its anti-counterfeiting campaign theme, the World Health Organisation (WHO) uses the slogan “Counterfeit Drugs kill” and this message explicitly conveys the consequential effect of counterfeit drug not only on the industry but also on the fake drug consumer in the society at large. Other challenges of fake drugs are body resistance to drugs, therapeutic failure and economic setback for the country.
Not too long ago, NAFDAC recommended stiffer penalty for drug counterfeiters to serve as deterrent to others. Professor Adeyeye, the DG said the penalty according to the provisions of the law for illicit drug dealers or drug offenders in the country is too weak and therefore called for such a law to be reviewed. She further revealed that, the agency had presented a bill to the National Assembly proposing more punishments for illicit and falsified drug dealers. She noted that food and drugs are too important in human life to toy with. The agency’s boss said, “Fake and illicit drugs kill people and the judgment the offenders usually get is so insignificant when compared to the level of offence committed. Getting judgments of months or two years’ imprisonment is not enough. We must do everything possible to get a law in place that will recommend stiffer penalty for drug counterfeiters.”
This is also calling on the National Assembly at this time to expedite action on the National Drug Control Bill by urgently examining and passing the proposed bill into law. The bill seeks to eradicate illicit production, importation and trafficking of controlled substances by clarifying objectively the mandate and capacity of NDLEA and NAFDAC, as well as other relevant law enforcement and regulatory bodies. The bill is also aimed at criminalizing the diversion, distribution or dispensing of controlled substances with no license or prescription. When this bill becomes law, then ignorance of the law will be no excuse for illicit drug dealers and offenders any more.
The introduction and deployment of Mobile Authentication Service (MAS) – a scheme which enables consumers to check whether a drug is authentic or not, is a welcome development from NAFDAC as this has to a large extent controlled drug counterfeiting especially in antimalarial and antibacterial drug categories. The food and drug agency, some days ago, in partnership with Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) presented guidelines to strengthen the implementation and enforcement of the MAS scheme. You will recall that the House of Representative suggested that the agency utilise MAS for all drugs regulated by it.
To effectively combat fake dugs and rid the country of counterfeiters, there should be: First, effective public enlightenment on the deadly effects of fake drugs, engagement and monitoring of drug distribution among dealers. Secondly, provision of adequate technology protection for the identity of genuine drugs. Thirdly, improving the quality assurance operations of drug manufacturers nationwide. Fourthly, vigilance and advocacy by health care providers. Finally, NDLEA, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), State Security Service (SSS) and other law enforcement or security agencies and regulatory bodies should to collaborate to produce a society free of fake and substandard drugs.
• Ojewale wrote from Idimu, Lagos.