The Havoc of ” Chemists and Patent” Medicine Stores _Dr Biodun Ogungbo, MBBS,FRCS,FRCSEd,MSc

This is not the first time that someone is going to call the attention of government and all Nigerians to the terrible dangers posed to the health of the nation by so called patent medicine stores and local chemists. Sounding this note of warning again and again can never be too much, as the havoc wrecked by them, on unsuspecting customers cannot be overemphasised.

Chemist shops and patent medicine stores abound in all parts of the country. They are usually shops of average square area 50 cm2 with a counter and glassed or wooden shelves on the walls. They are often manned by uneducated men/women, young boys in certain cases and mostly secondary school dropouts.
These shops stock almost any drug and none is sacred to them.
Even though unqualified, the chemist boys (and girls) diagnose and treat customers. They proclaim to know everything, every drug and are ever ready to “help”. This help offered at a price, can however be suicidal, yet their customers range through the social, educational levels of the public.

Many people have stepped inside a local chemist, at least once.
I personally had the misfortune of patronising one such chemist some time ago. I’d gone to visit a relative and one of the children had scabies. I opted to buy the necessary drug from this chemist a few meters away. The drug I wanted was ASCABIOL (pronounced AS-KA-BIOL). The young man in the shop checked the shelves and there was no Ascabiol. He however advised that I buy ENCEPHABOL instead, since in his own words, “na the same work dem dey do”. I was shocked and felt like beating him into coma with head injury, so that he can have use for the Encephabol he offered me.
And that is one major danger posed to customers.
Drugs with similar names are traded off for one another. These drugs in most cases have different chemical compositions and are used for different diseases. Or how can one reconcile the sale of CHLORPROMAZINE (a drug used in anxiety state and some psychiatric diseases) to a diabetic patient who wanted to buy CHLOPROPAMIDE, simply because they are both CHLOR-CHLOR. i.e both begin with CHLOR. Apart from been deprived of the correct drug, the customer is subjected to the harmful effects of using the wrong and potentially dangerous drug.

Another source of danger is the sale of expired drugs.
A look into the expiring date of drugs in this chemist will reveal that up to 40% of drugs being offered for sale are expired drugs. The potency and efficacy of their drugs is also suspect as manufacturers advise specific conditions for retailed drugs which are not met in the hot, dusty environment of these chemists.

The issue of fake drugs must not be overlooked.
Fake manufacturers collude with owners of patent medicine stores in the sale of fake drugs. More so, these people cannot distinguish between original and fake drugs. In actual fact, it is cheaper and more rewarding for them to buy fake drugs. It must be mentioned that chemist boys also double as ‘injectionists’ and quack doctors.

There have been situations where they have prescribed and administered injectable drugs.
Invariably, majority of their customers end up in hospital with serious complications. In addition, at times, customers are introduced to new diseases acquired from improper technique and unhygienic conditions.
Injection abscesses are so common from chemists and patent medicine stores.

What is needed is proper re-orientation and health education of the general public to the serious danger in patronage of such places. Health is wealth. The eventual cost of managing the complications of diseases ‘BOUGHT’ from these chemists outweigh the cost of proper treatment in recognised hospitals and accredited health care facilities.

The pharmacy board and local government officials have an important role to play in ensuring that only registered pharmacists own and manage chemists, dispensaries and pharmaceutical stores.
Hospital staff must also ensure that all cases resulting from quackery that come to them should be reported to police for immediate investigation and action.
The time is now.

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