October 6 2021
By Olukorede Yishau
Drugs are supposed to bring succour to their users. But some ‘manufacturers’ adulterate them to make cheap money, keeping agencies such as the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Customs Service, Immigration Service, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) on their toes. These men smile to the bank almost daily, yes, and just for selling fake, sub-standard and adulterated drugs. But the people whose money swells their bank accounts often die a painful, quick or slow death or suffer irreparable health challenges.
There are instances where drugs bought at genuine pharmaceutical stores have turned out fake because distributors order a counterfeit of genuine drugs, mix them with the original and sell them to unsuspecting pharmacies.
Welcome to the world of fake drugs manufacturers and dealers. They operate from dingy corners and package their products in such a way that it is difficult to tell they are from merchants of death.
In the early 2000s, statistics showed that over 40 percent of anti-malaria medicines in circulation in the country were counterfeited. It dropped to 15.7 percent in 2005. But three years later, it rose to an unprecedented 64 per cent. It has not quite reduced significantly.
For instance, Lonart, a popular anti-malaria drug, once lost 40 per cent of its market because of counterfeiting. At a point, the company launched a DS Mobile Authentication Service (MAS), through which consumers can detect counterfeited Lonart.
Asian countries such as India and China account for the bulk of drugs used in the country. It has also been found out that the bulk of the counterfeit drugs in circulation also originate from these countries. Cocaine barons are believed to have diversified into the importation of fake drugs, which they believe is less risky and equally profitable.
The situation is giving relevant agencies sleepless nights. Of recent, law enforcement agencies have intensified efforts to checkmate drugs adulteration and counterfeiting. Arrests have been made; seizures were effected; stores and warehouses of unwholesome drugs sealed up, and tonnes of killer drugs burnt. But the devils have not given up.
Some years back, three Cameroonians were arraigned at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, for allegedly selling unregistered and fake Chinese medicines in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital. Penda Geougs, Nana Patrice and Andrea Capoel were arraigned on a four-count charge of importing, selling, distributing and being in possession of unregistered, fake and counterfeit drugs. They were operating an illegal clinic at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Abakaliki, where they also dispensed and administered fake Chinese medicines to unsuspecting members of the public. Six bags of assorted fake drugs labelled in the Chinese language were confiscated from them. The offence contravenes Section 1(1) of the Food, Drug and Related Products (Registration etc) Act Cap F33 LFN 2004, and is punishable under Sections 6 and 7 of the same Act, and also violates Section 1(a) of the Counterfeit and Fake Drug and Unwholesome Processed Food (Miscellaneous Provision) Act cap C34, LFN, 2004 and punishable under Section 3(1)(a) of the same Act.
NAFDAC continues to shut drug stores all over the country for alleged sale of fake drugs and involvement in other unethical practices. The officials, assisted by security operatives, use Tru-Scan to detect fake drugs. Tru-Scan is an invention by the US military which scans imported products at the Ports and releases them on time without compromising their quality.
Makers of fake drugs in Nigeria have gone haywire and have forced officials of regulatory agencies to keep moving from one village to the other, town to town, to sensitise sellers and consumers on the need to combat counterfeit in our society.
Counterfeiting is becoming more dangerous. It is like a balloon filled with water that, when pushed on one side, goes in and waits for you to remove your hands before bouncing back even stronger. The situation has also put other agencies such as Customs Service, Immigration Service, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) on their toes.
Customs has developed a system that allows it to know the content of a container even before it arrives. Once it knows the content is pharmaceutical in nature, it allows NAFDAC to inspect it. But somehow, these men who need to be castrated when caught are still bringing in their products of death or making them locally.
Smuggling is a destroyer of the economy, robs the nation of her revenue, hence affects the provision of social services to the entire community, and can destroy people’s health through the importation of expired, fake, and other drugs. But the agencies fighting drugs counterfeiting are handicapped. NAFDAC, for instance, has a serious financial constraint. The agency operates with few old Peugeot 504 cars, with one or two for each local government area. These vehicles because of their age often break down.
My final take: For now, the merchants of death still beat the system to line their pockets with what observers have described as blood money. So, agencies such as NAFDAC and Customs still need to do more because only through this can we beat these evil men to their game and save lives