Dr. Lolu Ojo is the Chairman of the Nigerian Academy of Pharmacy (NAP) Committee on drug and substance abuse. Ojo who is also the Managing Director, Merit Healthcare Limited, former Chairman, Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (NAIP), and Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) in this interview with The Guardian unveiled plans by the Academy to eradicate drug and substance abuse in Nigeria. CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes. Excerpts:
What informed the new project by the Nigerian Academy of Pharmacy?
The Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy, one of the five academies in Nigeria, was established in 2014 to provide thought and opinion leadership on all matters relating to the science, education, clinical engagement, industrial development and the practice of Pharmacy in Nigeria.
The academy has, within the few years of existence, made her impact felt and is uniquely positioned to bring scientific knowledge to bear on the policies/strategic direction of the country with focus on the development and advancement of Pharmaceutical sciences, technology, and innovation in Nigeria.
The NAP is deeply concerned that the abuse of drugs and other substances has become widespread in recent time particularly among the youthful population in Nigeria.
The menace of drug abuse needs to be checked, otherwise, it can impair all the efforts being made to put the nation on a higher political and economic pedestal. As a frontline stakeholder in this matter, the Academy has decided to mobilise all pharmaceutical professional, trade and regulatory groups to come together and assist Government efforts designed to eliminate the scourge from the society.
What are the implications of this recent rise in drug abuse and misuse?
Drugs and substance abuse pose a threat to our collective values and wellbeing with myriad of consequences on our economy, family life, healthcare, national pride, education and human capital development.
Drug abuse and misuse inflict immeasurable harm on the economy, society, public health and safety around the world each year. It also threatens the peaceful development and smooth functioning of many systems that keep a nation moving. Particularly, there have been increased suicide rates and increased economic costs in the management of drug-induced disorders.
Also, there have been higher crime rates under the influence of drugs and to secure finances to support continued drug consumption and addiction, which is a threat to public safety. Already, about 14.4 million Nigerians are currently on drugs and 25 per cent of them are women.
How do you intend to tackle the situation?
The solution will require a multi-dimensional approach starting from the awareness that drug use is dangerous to individual health and the society.
The focal point will be the family unit and we must encourage parents to spend more time with their children and watch over them till adulthood. The religious groups must devote enough time to counselling against the deleterious effects of drug and substance abuse. The access to drugs must be severely limited by ensuring all drug supplies are sourced and distributed through the qualified professionals, the Pharmacists.
The Government must do much more to create employment opportunities for the youths and use sports and other recreational activities to engage them. The entire value system in the society must be changed and directed towards decency in all things.
The President of the NAP, Prince Julius Adewale Adelusi-Adeluyi, a former Minister of Health, inaugurated a committee comprising of representatives of the Academy, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), National Agency for Food drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), Pharmaceutical Manufacturing group (PMG-MAN), Association of Pharmaceutical Importers of Nigeria (APIN), Nigeria Representatives of Oversea Manufacturing Companies (NIROPHARM), Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (NAIP), Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists of Nigeria (AHAPN), Nigerian Association of Pharmacists in Academia (NAPA), Association of Lady Pharmacists (ALPS), Young Pharmacists Group (YPG) and the Board of Fellows (BOF) of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, to plan and carry out a series of activities that will achieve the objectives mentioned above.
The NAP has charged the Substance Abuse Committee to organize a symposium aimed at identifying the causes, implications, and control measures of the growing substance abuse menace in Nigeria.
All stakeholders have been mobilized for their participation and support as we seek to identify the respective roles of pharmacists and all other stakeholders. The deductions, conclusions, and recommendations will be presented to the appropriate bodies for necessary and immediate action. The symposium held on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos.
The symposium is to crown the other numerous activities engaged in by other pharmacy societies who are members of the committee. Particularly, we had a sensitization and awareness walk for drug and substance abuse in Nigeria on Monday, June 10, 2019 from Allen Avenue roundabout to Ikeja Under-Bridge.
Do you support the ban on codeine and tramadol sales?
Placing a ban on any product is a reactive strategy, which will only achieve a short-lived benefit. It can limit the immediate availability but with system leakages that are so rampart in our country, the banned products will, somehow, find their way back into marketplace and become underground commodity.
Right now, there are so many products that being abused. Are we going to ban all of them? We need a more holistic approach, a firmer regulatory control and empowerment of the regulatory agency.
Do you plan to sponsor any bill at the national assembly on this issue?
It is possible that a bill may be sponsored as things evolve. However, there is a Pharmacy Council Bill currently awaiting Presidential assent. We will like to use this opportunity to call on President Muhammadu to sign this bill, which is set to expire with the current 8th National Assembly.
What penalties do you recommend for offenders both the erring individual and company?
A part of our strategy is to reduce or better still, eliminates the stigma associated with drug and substance abuse. It will not be right for the society to ostracise the people involved. They need our help and support because this is not, necessarily, an issue of character flaw. It is a medical problem that develops over time. However, for the manufacturers and distributors of illicit drugs, there are enough sanctions prescribed for them in the relevant statues of agencies like the NDLEA, NAFDAC and the PCN. What we will need, very urgently now, is the enforcement of the rules.
Some schools of thought blame poor regulation by NAFDAC and PCN for this menace. What is your take on this?
Indeed, there are opportunities for these agencies to do much more than they are doing now. The regulation is weak and most times, ineffective. However, these agencies need more empowerment. They need tools and fund to carry out their duties effectively. The Federal Government must ensure that this is done, and we will also request that Nigerians demand more accountability from NAFDAC and PCN.
I heard the First Lady is involved in this project and at what capacity?
The First lady, Hajia Aisha Muhammadu Buhari is very passionate about elimination of drug abuse especially because it affects Women and Youths more than any other category of persons.
As the mother of the nation, she was our Special Guest of Honour at the symposium we had on Tuesday, June 11, 2109. The theme of the symposium was ‘Approach to Eradication of Drug and Substance Abuse in Nigeria” and the Keynote address speaker was Dr. Martins Osayande Agogie, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Global Initiative on Substance Abuse. There will also be a panel discussion to be moderated by Dr. Dere Awosika.
In the long run, what does NAP want to achieve?
The Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy is committed to working with relevant stakeholders towards sustainable elimination of drug abuse in Nigeria through effective implementation of evidence-based policies and programs. The Academy will not rest on our oars until Drug and Substance abuse is eliminated from our society. We will continue in engagement with all stakeholders and leave no gaps to be exploited.
What agenda are you setting for the new minister of and this administration on how to improve the health indices in this country?
Access to affordable medicines is still a big challenge for Nigerians. Government should focus on encouraging local pharmaceutical industries with incentives, infrastructure and policy reviews. When there is access to safe, efficacious and affordable medicines, we may be closer to achieving our Universal Health Coverage (UHC) targets. Drug distribution should be orderly and deliver the most effective, safe and affordable medicines to Nigerians.
It is believed that if most of these drugs were locally produced, they would be easier to regulate. What is your take on this?
The emphasis on local drug production is good but we will not achieve much if the regulation continues to be week and ineffective. Besides, we are not able to produce all our drug needs.
The main problem is the chaotic distribution channel, which is largely unregulated and illegal. This is where Government should do the right thing by implementation of the National Drug Distribution Guidelines to safeguard Nigerians for the cancer of fake, substandard.