(By Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis)
Eminent pharmacists, health officials and stakeholders in the health care sector recently converged to discuss ways to curb arbitrary use of medicines in the country.
The inaugural consultative forum under the auspices of a non-governmental organisation, Initiative for Safe Use of Medicine (INSUM), was held at Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) on January 29, 2014.
In attendance were Pharm. Akintunde Obembe, chairman, Lagos branch of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN); Pharm. (Sir) Ifeanyi Atueyi, managing director of Pharmanews Ltd; Dr. S. O. Tanimowo, a community physician; Pharm. Bisi Bright, chief executive officer of Livewell Initiative; Dr. Tony Anyanwu, physician and endocrinologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, and a host of other dignitaries.
Describing medicines as substances, including vaccines, used in the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of a disease, Pharm. (Sir) Ifeanyi Atueyi, the keynote address speaker, lamented that the use of medicines in the country had largely degenerated into a state of abuse.
He was however quick to add that, in modern times, medicines have greatly changed the way in which diseases are managed and controlled.
“Many years ago, there were no remedies for diseases like polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tuberculosis, schizophrenia, and other related illnesses. Today, therapies for these are relatively commonplace interventions which have yielded immeasurable benefit,” he said.
He further disclosed that despite these benefits, all medicines are known to have side effects. “In the words of Paracelsus, all things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not to be a poison,” he noted.
Using Nigeria as a focal point, the Pharmanews publisher noted that a typical case in such medicine abuse was the date rape and subsequent murder of Cynthia Osokogu involving the use of Flunitrazepam (Rophynol®), a potent short-term prescription–only Benzodiazepine hypnotic that causes strong amnesia.
“Sad as it was, this would not have happened if there was sufficient control to the access to such a potent drug,” he pointed out. ““There are other reported cases of adverse drug reactions such as abortion or miscarriage resulting from misuse of Misoprostol, and common ones like liver damage from arbitrary use of paracetamol.”
The eminent pharmacist however said that with the proposed implementation of the drug distribution guideline in July 2014, there is renewed hope that the menace would be curtailed.
Atueyi also took a swipe at unethical use of advertisement and bogus claims by pharmaceutical companies which he said encouraged use of medicines without prescription.
Also sharing the same view, Pharm. Ibrahim Oreagba, a senior research fellow at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, declared that fostering safe use of medicine begins with patient-oriented practices.
One of such practices, according to him, was pharmacovigilance which came into being afterthe thalidomide tragedyof the 1960s. He also urged pharmacists to spend some time counselling patients on the use of drugs.
“I am happy INSUM has taken up this challenge. This is why I think we need more NGOs that will focus more on sensitive health issues like this,” he stated.
In appreciation of the speakers, Pharm Dotun Amosun, INSUM Board of Trustees chairman, remarked that he was happy with the turnout of participants as the consultative forum was meant to foster partnership of individuals, organisations and stakeholders in the health care sector.
“The main objective of INSUM is to promote and support the safe and appropriate use of medicines in Nigeria through advocacy, research and public education,” he said.
In the same vein, Dr. (Mrs) Nkiru Asoegwu, INSUM Board of Trustees vice chairman,also drummed up support for the initiative, saying, aside targeting nurses, doctors and several other health care players, there was need to take the programme to the broadcast media and also make it dominant on the social media.
“I believe there are lots of people out there whom I am sure will benefit from this Initiative,” she stressed.
On how she came up with such a laudable initiative, Pharm. Nneka Egbuchulam, founder and project director of INSUM reminisced that she simply observed that people had too many questions about how to use their medicines and that they often ended up making wrong choices. That, according to her, made her decide to start an initiative that would address the disturbing trend.