Plenty of Work For NAFDAC, Customs Over Drug Counterfeiting

Fake drugs being burnt Fake drugs being burnt

Oct 3rd, 2011 Plenty of Work For NAFDAC, Customs Over Drug Counterfeiting

Drugs, if properly administered, 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 and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) on their toes, writes Assistant Editor (News) OLUKOREDE YISHAU.

THEY smile to the banks, just for selling fake, sub-standard and adulterated drugs. But, those who pay to fatten their bank accounts often die a painful, quick or slow death. In some instances, they suffer irreparable health challenges. 

The drugs bought at registered pharmaceutical stores often turn out fake because the distributors deliberately place orders for counterfeit drugs which they mix with the genuine and then sell to unsuspecting patrons.

In the world of the fake drug manufacturers and sellers, it is the case of the more you look, the less you see. They operate from dingy and obscure places where counterfeited drugs are packaged in such a way that makes it difficult to detect that such products are from the merchants of death.

In the early 2000s, statistics show that over 40 per cent of the anti-malaria drugs in circulation in the country were counterfeited. The figure dropped to 15.7 per cent in 2005, only to rise again three years later to an unprecedented 64 per cent. It has not quite reduced significantly, said a source.

According to a source, Lonart, a popular anti-malaria drug reportedly lost 40 per cent of its market, no thanks to counterfeiting. 

Last Thursday, the company launched a Mobile Authentication Service (MAS), through which consumers can detect counterfeited Lonart.

The Executive Chairman, Greenlife Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Dr. Obiora Chukwuka, said the MAS would assist the firm in protecting its brands from abuse by drug counterfeiters.

The Federal Government has directed that all anti-malarial drugs be protected with scratch codes by January next year.

Records have shown that 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 found their ways into the country from these countries.

It was learnt that of recent, cocaine barons have been diversifying into importation of fake drugs, which they believe is less risky and equally profitable.

The situation is giving relevant agencies sleepless nights. Director-General of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Joe Odumodu, said the country is under siege from other nations. 

“We are under siege from other nations. We are under siege from substandard products. But, we don’t seem to know it. Out of five products in the Nigerian market, four are substandard. From pharmaceuticals to tyres, aside from non-core consumables, we are under siege,” he said.

Of recent, the law enforcement agencies stepped up efforts to checkmate drugs adulteration and counterfeiting. 

Several arrests have been made; seizures were effected and tonnes of killer-drugs burnt; and warehouses of unwholesome drugs sealed up. In the last few weeks, NAFDAC has carried out impromptu tours of no less than 23 states.

On October 31, three Camerounians will return to the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt to answer charges for allegedly selling unregistered and fake drugs in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital. The products have their oringin in China. The suspects – Penda Geougs, Nana Patrice and Andrea Capoel, were arraigned earlier in September by NAFDAC on a four-count charge of importing, selling, distributing and being in possession of unregistered, fake and counterfeit drugs.

NAFDAC officials accused the suspects of operating an illegal clinic at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Abakaliki, where they also dispensed and administered fake Chinese medicines on unsuspecting members of the public. Six bags of assorted fake drugs labelled in 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 Act.

In the aftermath of a raid carried out last week by the agency, no fewer than 30 drug dealers, including pharmacists, who allegedly contravened the regulatory laws of the NAFDAC on fake and sub-standard drugs, were arrested by the Delta State command of the agency. The arrests were the product of an exercise that has been on for weeks in the state.

Not long ago too, NAFDAC shut 10 fake drug stores in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital over alleged sale of fake drugs and involvement in sundry unethical practices. The officials assisted by security operatives used Tru-Scan to detect the fake drugs. Several medicine store owners took to their heels when they sighted the NAFDAC officials.

NAFDAC’s Deputy Director, Spot Inspection Mrs. Comfort Makanjuola said the exercise was carried out to safeguard the health of the people.

She said:  “Makers of fake drugs in Nigeria have gone haywire and we are ready for them. We really need the cooperation of these sellers, especially in getting receipts for all their products so that makers of fake drugs could be easily traced and arrested.”

The agency’s Director-General, Dr. Paul Orhii, said counterfeiting is becoming more dangerous. He described it as a ballon filled with water. 

The NAFDAC chief said: “Counterfeiting is like a balloon filled with water; you push it on one side, it goes and waits for your hands, and if you want to take the hands, it can bounce back even stronger. So, that is what we saw when NAFDAC fought counterfeiting and reduced it to 15.7 per cent. But by 2008, we found out that more than the 64 per cent of the anti-malaria drugs in the circulation were either fake or substandard. So, you cannot celebrate that you have gained some victory, especially now that it is even more dangerous.”

The situation has put other agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service, the Nigeria Immigration Service, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) on their toes.

The Nation learnt that the Customs officials have developed a system, which allow them know the content of a container ahead of its arriver. Once the content is identified as pharmaceutical in nature, they allow NAFDAC to inspect the consignment.  

Customs confirmed that a lot of counterfeit drugs are smuggled into the country. The agency on its website said: “Smuggling …can destroy people’s health through importation of expired, fake, and other drugs.”

Though it claimed to have  reduced smuggling generally, but the drug-fighting agencies remain handicapped. 

NAFDAC, for instance, has serious financial constraints. The agency operates with few old Peugeot 504 cars, with one or two for each local government areas. These vehicles, because of their age, often break down while on opeartions.

But the agency is not resigning to fate. It has been trying to make up with modern technologies, one of which is the Truscan, a new invention by the United States (US) military. With this, it scans imported products at the Ports and releases them on time without compromising their quality.

NAFDAC is also working towards a situation where there will be standard drug market centres across the country. The centres, it was learnt, are to be manned with Truscan to ensure that drugs are tested before they are transferred to the various distribution points.

When they become operational, NAFDAC will sanction any importer or manufacturer whose products are found in the open drug market without going through the centres.

For now, the merchants of death still beat the system to line their pockets with what observers have described as blood money.