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Drug Abuse: Nigerians Sniff Steams from Toilet Pits

Drug addiction, not stemmed, can become a universal solvent. It can dissolve everything, including, works, relationships, homes, marriages and ultimately dissolves the body and soul of the user.

The continuous use of psychoactive substances among adolescents and youths in Nigeria has become a public health concern. Key findings from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) research on Drug Use in Nigeria (2019) indicates that:

1 in 7 persons aged 15-64 years had used a drug (other than tobacco and alcohol) in the past year.

-14.3 million people aged 15-64 years had used a psychoactive substance in the past year for non-medical purposes.

-More men (annual prevalence of 21.8 per cent or 10.8 million men) than women (annual prevalence of 7.0 per cent or 3.4 million women) reported past-year drug use in Nigeria.

– The highest levels of any past-year drug use were among those aged 25-39 years.

– 1 in 5 person who had used drugs in the past year is suffering from drug user disorders.

-Cannabis is the most commonly used drug. An estimated 10.8 per cent per cent of the population or 10.6 million people.

 -4.6 million people had used opioids (such as tramadol, codeine, or morphine) for non-medical purposes in the past year.

-Non-medical use of cough syrups containing codeine and dextromethorphan is estimated at 2.4 per cent of the adult population (nearly 2.4 million people).

– 376,000 were estimated to be high risk-drug users. The majority of high-risk drug users were regular users of opioids.  1 in 5 high-risk drug users injects drugs. The most common drugs injected in the past year were pharmaceutical opioids (such as tramadol, codeine, or morphine), followed by cocaine, heroin and tranquilizers.

These are indeed frightening data. Drug addiction in Nigeria is a social disorder in need of fast recovery. Drug addiction in Nigeria, if not checked, is like accident waiting to happen on the Nigeria’s fragile health sector.

So, how do we tackle the menace of drug abuse in Nigeria? We took the challenge to a professional who should know better. The professional; Our Personality of the Week, for the second week running, Phar. (Chief) Rahmon Bioku, the Chief Executive Officer of Bioraj Pharmaceutical, manufacturers of high-quality NAFDAC registered tablets and syrups drugs.

His responses to drug abuse challenges in Nigeria did not only take us aback, but open a can of worm on drug abuse challenges in Nigeria.

Phar. Bioku Rahmon, in an exclusive interview with Citizen Comfort, said the reason why some analgesic don’t work again for some people in Nigeria is abuse. One person can take as much as four analgesics together at a time, each of them not up to the required milligram. They will take aspirin, paracetamol, ibupain, piroxicam, etc.  Abuse, according to the erudite pharmacist, is a challenge in Nigeria. And if not nipped in the bud, the result would be rampart kidney failures

While taking us through an overview of drug abuse in Nigeria, Bioku said, “There are two angles to drug abuse. There is misuse of drugs, that’s when you don’t follow recommended prescribed dosage. And there is abuse when you take drugs not recommended.  Drugs being a chemical whether natural or not natural have effects on the health of the taker. Drugs, he said, are supposed to perform a therapeutic function in the body, so when it doesn’t see a therapeutic work to do, it must do another work. And this affects all demographic strata of the society”.

According to the BIORAJ CEO, Nigeria’s geriatric population abuses drugs when they continue to use drugs to help them keep up with manual jobs at old age.   Some disease conditions, he said, are inherent in old age occasioned because of depreciation in the functionality of body organs like liver, kidney, pancreas, bones, and even in the cellular system; the cartilage are also waning by degradation. These conditions don’t require drugs but nutritious food, exercise and good rest to perform replacement therapy for the depleting organ cells, occasioned by age.

The adolescence and adults in Nigeria, the most active population are the biggest abusers of drugs. Pharmacist Bioku said “by nature, there is a limit to what your brain cells, your setup, can carry. If you reach that limit, you have to go and rest. But here, they want to do more, they want to appear super human. Something that your nature can only do 80 you want to do 200. So, they take all kinds of drugs to raise energy, including hard drugs, particularly cannabis and stimulants to remain active and work tirelessly. The consequence of the abuse is that certain area of the cells of the brain may die off and may  result to mental health issues.

 The disgusting and shocking trend of drug abuse among the youth population, according to Bioku, is the abuse of hydrocarbon. “You know, human feces contain hydrocarbon, the steam that comes out of toilet is hydrocarbon, similar to what they get from solation.   So, they open pits and sniff the steam to get high”. Even now, Bioku said, paracetamol syrup is being abused. “Because the drugs contain propylene glycol which is stronger than ethanol by almost 4 or 5 times. They take 2 or 3 bottles of the drug to get high, a drug meant for children”.

Aside that, a lot of drugs, according to him are being abused. According to Pharmacist Bioku, “there is what they call “Oku Miri ” in Ibo; where they take amphetamine, combine with some things to remain active for 24 hrs. Like what Frank Tallis said about drug addiction, that addiction is maintained by pleasure, but the intensity of the pleasure gradually diminishes and the addiction is then maintained by the avoidance of pain, Bioku saidwhen the effects of the drugs wear off, they will be rolling on the floor.

These drugs, Bioraj CEO says, are being manufactured from ephedrine that are normally used by some companies as raw materials. However, one way or the other, the drugs find its way to the wrong hands

Amphetamine addiction, he said, gives  effect that is more or less similar to that of cocaine.

In effect, he concluded, the country will suffer from drug abuse. Because, according to him, the country is breeding lunatics and unhealthy population that would put pressure on the health facilities that is not even sufficient. Government will have to spend money on drugs meaning that country needs to produce more drugs for remedies or import more drugs for remedies. Whichever way puts more pressure on forex. It’s a chain of effect, he asserted.

Fake Drugs; Government Must Leave Drugs Biz in the Hands of Pharmacists

Fake drug does not just cause disability or untoward effect, it can cause death. Imagine a diabetes patient swallowing chalk, thinking it’s metformin, the man will eventually go into diabetes coma and can die. This was the view of Pharmacist Bioku on the monstrous issue of fake drugs in Nigeria. He however, praise NAFDAC’s efforts at curtailing the problem of fake drugs in the country. “Thank God for NAFDAC, the woman is doing a lot to address the issue of fake drugs. I just pray they sustain it, and I pray that government assist and support the agency in any area they need assistance, particularly in the area of logistics.

The porosity of Nigeria border is a big factor that encourages the menace of fake drugs. “Today, it’s cheaper to import than to produce locally. Today, we are still having stiff competitions with imported drugs. Nigeria government should have the political will to ban some of the importations. We have enough facilities to produce more than enough oral drugs for Nigeria needs. Tablets, syrups and capsules; Nigeria has the capacity to produce not only for Nigerians but for the rest of Africa”

To effectively tackle the problems of fake drugs, the tailor turned erudite pharmacists advocates putting total control of drug business in the hands of pharmacists.  “Let govt leave drug business into the hands of pharmacists. I remember when I was a young pharmacist, I worked in Lagos briefly, I knew then that before they could clear a container, I had to physically go and sign for the container. But that’s no longer the case. Today, every Tom, Dick and Harry deal in drugs and hard drugs. Once they have money, they go through the trade window, open form M, do the LC and when the drugs are here you go and clear without any pharmacist input.  This does not augur well for the health of the country. It’s not done anywhere. In other climes, you can’t even operate drug shop without being a pharmacist. A situation where even a primary school leaver opens a shop and sell drugs is certainly not healthy for us as a country. A primary school leaver has nothing to lose, but a pharmacist has everything to lose if he’s deregistered”.

Medical Brain drain; Fresh Graduate Must Serve Bond

While speaking on the exodus of Nigeria’s medical graduate to other countries in Europe and America, Bioku said brain drain has pros and cons. “My views are positive and negative. Positive, in line with what Prof.  Fabamwo of LASUTH said, that brain drain that allows for brain gain is a positive development for the country. Adding that what a doctor will collect here in 2 years, he will collect in one month in US. Aside that, our boys that are going abroad are learning new techniques, and gaining a lot. He compared Nigeria’s brain drain development to what happened in India. According to him, India, 35 years ago sent Indian doctors abroad and after acquiring new techniques and experience brought them back home, provided them equipment and enabling environment to practice what they have learnt. And that’s why India, today, leads in tertiary treatment of sick people.

Another positive thing to take in brain drain issue is that “it’s a pass of a vote of confidence by foreign countries on Nigeria’s educational system”. Bioku stressed.

On the contrary side, “we are losing our good hands. It cost a lot to train someone to become a doctor or a pharmacist. In US today, they pay as much as $17000.00 that’s about 10m naira per year for similar training that we do here in Nigeria’s public university for less than 100,000 naira per year. What it means is that government has been financing the cost of training. And that’s why I support introduction of a bond that mandates you to work in the system that has  financed your training for about 5 years after graduating”.

Nigeria in the Future

Nigeria should have the confidence that we can go places if we get it right. Nigeria can become a force to reckon with in the whole world in 2 years. Bioku assesses Nigeria resources and said “The human resources are there; the mineral resources are there. All we need is the political will.  The Igbeti marbles have not even been tapped. The deposit of marble in Igbeti is more than what Thailand is using as the mainstay of the economy. We have gold that South Africa and Chinese people are coming to mine free. Our gold is better than what they have in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. When we get it right those that ran away with the brain drain will come back to establish in a big way”.

Herbal Vendors Mix Aspirin with ‘Agbo’ to Create Active Effects

There are positive and negative side to herbal. The positive side is that all drugs originated from herbal.  Chincona back, the popular Cashier tree, led to the development of quinine which is the basic molecule of chloroquine. When we look at it from this background, the basic molecule for treatment and origin of treatments are herbal based. That’s why China and India are going herbal in a modern way.

We are also developing some herbal products here in BIORAJ. They are work in progress. More companies should be encouraged to go into it.  The fact of the matter is that nature abhors a vacuum, and because professionals are creating a vacuum in natural products, that is what the “Alagbos” of Nigeria are cashing in.

Now to the negative side. There are regulations guiding the activities in drug manufacturing and marketing but unfortunately nobody enforces it .Governments and agencies need to have the political will to enforce the regulations. This is why people do things with impunity.

There is no reason why an “alagbo” man or woman should be walking on the streets with so many concussions and not get arrested because they are killing people. Neither the “alagbo” nor the consumer knows how the chemical composition will be metabolized, the toxicity and dosage issues. By the time they give different assorted concussions, they overload the consumers’ kidney and liver.

The media are also not helping matters. As long as the “alagbo” people can pay the money, they allocate airtime on the radio for the man to make all sorts of bogus claims such as, product that can purify blood and cure “jedijedi”. You wonder how we got into this. Somebody claims he has drug that can cure diabetes, a genetic disorder, an endocrine problem resulting from body’s inability to produce enough insulin. Diabetes can only be managed not cured.

Some of the herbal products, when taken with no appropriate dosage, remove potassium from the body and when potassium is not enough in the body, the heart is in trouble.

These are the problems with herbal concocsions. Government should put more control. NAFDAC should also step up its regulatory functions on the porous “agbo” market. The Nigeria Broadcasting Commission should also sanction radio and tv stations that broadcast unapproved drug products adverts. APCON also has a role to play.

The secret that the “alagbos” are using is that they put secretly orthodox medicine like aspirin in the mixture. So that when people take the mixture, they sweat and think the drug is working. That is the reason why aspirin formulae are moving fast in the market

Solution: Government should live up to expectation.  Government should live issues relating to drugs in the hands of pharmacists. Government should stop unscrupulous advertising of drugs. By the time the government demonstrates enough political will, the country will be better for it,

Manufacturers Headaches

Manufacturing in Nigeria faces serious challenges that only the strong hearted manufacturers are able to cope with. There is environmental challenge, the policy environment challenge, taxation challenge, infrastructure challenge and above all these is the bigger challenge of dishonesty. While acknowledging the ‘headaches’ arising from these challenges, Bioraj CEO said they are surmountable.

“We have identified 31 illegal multiple taxation that we are paying in this company. We pay joint tax; In joint tax we have radio and television, we have loading and offloading and so many other taxes.  At the same time, they would still ask us to pay loading and offloading separately.  As a professional if I want to renew my license at the end of every year I will pay to PCN. if I want to renew my product, I will still have to pay to NAFDAC.

In developed climes, Bioku said things are done differently. Having ensured that you pay your taxes, governments ensured you benefit from social services, public services, infrastructural services.

The typical problems facing the average Nigeria’s manufacturers are still easily surmountable.  “Whatever tax and other costs you have had to pay, you factor into cost of production and mark up. Meaning that you are still making profit”.

The main manufactures challenge in Nigeria is dishonesty. According to Bioku, dishonesty on the part of staff you have employed and dishonesty on the part of the staff of companies supplying materials and some government agencies

. “If you go the port to clear products, you will see hell.  If you want to sign a document at the port today, they may say the officer to sign is not around. Days to weeks to months, they foot drag in signing a simple document for product that has short expiring date. Apart from making you to pay demurrages, by the time the container is cleared, the product atimes may have only 6 months to expiration, you of course have to be at the mercy of the market”.

“Now, to the people you employed.  Majority of Africans are dishonest. You cannot entrust your business into another people’s hands. As am busy doing researches and studies for products innovations, I still have to check every record relating to the operations of the company. This rarely happens in advanced climes. The last time I was in India, a friend of mine, introduced the owner of the restaurant where I normally eat but I have never seen since I have been eating there. I asked him, how come you don’t stay in this place and this business is running well. He said here in India they don’t steal. He said he has 40 restaurants in India and he doesn’t bother going there. All he does is to go on holiday and check their books once in a while. Here in Nigeria, you are at the mercy of dishonest staff”. That’s why most businesses in Nigeria are turning into family business.

So, the major problem we have in manufacturing is not bad road, though it’s part of it; It’s not electricity, though it’s part of it; It’s not multiple taxation, though it’s part of it.  It is dishonesty, says Pharmacist (Chief) Bioku Rahmon.



Source: Dare Agbeluyi, Chief Publisher.

Publisher’s Note:

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Dare Agbeluyi is a 1985 graduate of Mass Communication, University of Lagos. And Master of Arts, Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan, 1988. A very experienced media practitioner since 1986. He has worked in both print and broadcast media. A prolific writer; He became a columnist with The Punch where he pioneered the automobile column known as Automart, now metamorphosed to Transport column published every Wednesday, while still working officially as senior Advertorial Coordinator, in charge of supplements. He is an all-around media practitioner. In 1996, Dare started media brokerage, interfacing between agencies and media, leveraging on his media experience to bulk and sell cheaper. A versatile media man, who has a knack for creative writing. He is also a prolific scriptwriter. Dare is an independent media content provider for radio, print and digital. Dare Agbeluyi is in the full membership category of the Advertising Regulation Council of Nigeria (ARCON).


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