Friday, October 16, 2009

Death for Fake Drug Merchants?

To the extent that fake and expired drugs are responsible for the deaths of several unsuspecting consumers and the incapacitation of several others, any measure to punish the purveyors of such calamities would just be okay.
This probably informs the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Dr Paul Orhii’s recent call for the imposition of the death penalty on manufacturers, importers and distributors of fake, adulterated or expired drugs.
The NAFDAC boss who argued that the existing penalty of 15 years imprisonment or N15, 000 fine is grossly inadequate for such offences, said the Agency had in fact prepared a draft bill that proposes the death penalty for onward submission to the National Assembly.
Surely, the desperation of the NAFDAC boss is understandable. The havoc wreaked daily on innocent citizens by the menace of counterfeit drugs cannot be underestimated. Although NAFDAC has in recent times made remarkable achievements in the fight against fake and expired drugs, the scourge, like many social problems in the country, has continued to show an inexplicable capacity for resistance.
This is partly due to the ‘sacredness’ of the proverbial ‘cows’ behind the manufacture, importation and distribution of these drugs of death. The battle royale between the cabals and Orhii’s predecessor, Prof Dora Akunyili, that culminated in the alleged assassination attempt on the latter is common knowledge. Such is the desperation of the fake drug cartel to sustain their morbid business. So, in a way, NAFDAC’s bid to confront a desperate situation with a desperate solution could be justified.
But we see some problems here: legal and logistic problems. How are we sure the death penalty would be an effective deterrent to fake drug crimes? The existing death penalty for crimes like armed robbery in the country has so far not been able to curb this violent crime. We note that the death penalty has hardened criminals’ resolve and make them to be even more brutal against their hapless victims.
So, we don’t think this strategy would work against fake and counterfeit drug merchants. It will not. Threats of the death penalty have not reduced kidnapping in states that have passed laws to that effect. And in any case, the death penalty is fast becoming out of fashion in most countries of the world. Even in Nigeria where it is still in vogue, the reluctance of the penal authorities to carry out the death sentence on several convicts is one of the reasons for the current congestion in the nation’s jails.
Some condemned people who have been awaiting execution for years continue to constitute a drain on the nation’s resources, a moral stain on its psyche and a strain on prison facilities.
What NAFDAC ought to do to curb the stubborn fake drug trade is to step up its monitoring and enforcement duties to ensure the quality of pharmaceutical products in the country. For this, there is a need for proper funding and better equipment of the Agency as well as improved remuneration for its personnel to discourage them from falling for the filthy baits of the criminals.
Government should also plug all avenues through which fake drugs get into the country while stepping up the pursuit of bilateral cooperation with countries from where these drugs are imported. That is why the NAFDAC boss deserves all the necessary logistics support in his bid to set up control points in China and India – two major pharmaceutical products exporting nations to Nigeria - to verify the quality of drugs headed for Nigeria.