The federal government’s decision to ban sale of drugs in the open markets effective from January, this year, was seen as a step in the right direction. In its place, the government decided to embark on the implementation of the Coordinated Wholesale Centres (CWC) contained in the National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDG) of 2013.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who announced the decision had noted the prevalence of the open drug markets, resulting in poor product handling, difficulty in audit, product tracking for statistical purposes, circulation of substandard products as well as eroding professional practice.
He, however, explained that the CWC arrangement would not completely eliminate the open markets but rather accommodate them, while at the same time ensuring sanity in the drug distribution system. In our editorial reacting to the federal government’s posture, we gave our absolute support to the decision which was coming as one major policy with the assurance that it would, at least, mitigate the many health hazards associated with open drug marketing. We had also lamented the lack of control by relevant public health regulatory agencies made the markets easy outlets for fake, expired and out rightly dangerous drugs.
There is no doubt that due to huge returns on investments, the markets attract unscrupulous and quacks whose sole motives are to make huge cash at the expense of the health of their fellow citizens. The menace has become so phenomenal that several countries around the world have since embarked on varying strategies to contain it.
Nigeria has particularly been on the receiving end of this deadly business for decades. It is one of the Third World countries regarded as a fecund land for the business of fake and expired drugs as well as drugs that have been banned in their countries of manufacture to grow.
In fact, some pharmaceutical outfits in connivance with criminal minded importers deliberately set out to manufacture very low quality drugs specifically for export to Nigeria. In the same vein, expired drugs are repackaged and fitted with new expiry dates for sale to unsuspecting Nigerians.
These types of drugs are readily available in the open drug markets and some registered drug outlets owned by pharmacists and patent medicine owners. The most frightening side of the open drug markets is that they are outlets for sale and distribution of all manner of dangerous drugs such as narcotics now swarming over all parts of the country.
Openly hawked by all manner of vendors in the streets, night clubs, motor parks and even across the counter of licensed drug stores, hard drugs have assumed a disturbing dimension in the country.
This phenomenon is one of the explanations for the rising incidents of nefarious activities like armed robbery, kidnapping, cultism, militancy/insurgency and violent communal conflicts.
Then, there is the huge population of the nation’s youths that is held captive by mental illness arising from addiction to these harmful drugs. However, it is sad to note that about three months into the commencement of enforcement of the policy, all manner of drugs are still being sold in the open markets all over the country. The three designated centres, namely Aba, Lagos and Kano are far too inadequate to effectively serve the purpose of drug distribution for the entire country.
The government should critically examine the loopholes in the supply chain that have facilitated the importation of substandard and dangerous drugs into the country with a view to tackling the menace at the source as well as the flow line.
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the National Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Nigeria Police, Customs Services and other security agencies ought to be primed to be on the red alert for the new policy to yield the desired results.
As we previously observed, there is no gainsaying the fact that the crisis might not have assumed worrisome dimension that necessitated the initiative if the relevant regulatory agencies had all along been alive to their statutory responsibilities.
Aside the security implications of romancing with these dangerous drugs, no stones should be left unturned to wean the present generation of young Nigerians from the dangerous habit.
The relevant agencies should swing into action immediately to enforce the ban.
Any further delay would not only endanger the health of Nigerians but also hasten many of them to their early graves