Despite media campaigns by the Sierra Leone Pharmacy Board (SLPB) to combat illicit trade of pharmaceutical drugs by paddlers, illegal peddlers are viciously gallivanting the streets of Freetown; posing a serious health risk to the nation.
In an exclusive interview on the issue of prohibited pharmaceutical drug paddlers; the SLPB acting registrar, Wiltshire Johnson explained that, “we are all aware that sales of drugs by drug peddlers are illegal.”
He explained that for sometime now “we’ve been doing a lot as a board to combat this illicit trade, but unfortunately there are a number of factors that have hindered the success of our work”.
On several occasions, Mr Johnson disclosed that, “we’ve conducted raids to eradicate these drug paddlers from the streets, but miraculously somehow they keep coming back.”
“Drug peddling in accordance with the Pharmacy and Drugs Act 2001,” he maintained, “is illegal.”
However, Mr Johnson said, “the Act only mandates us to be able to identify such practices,” adding that “it is up to the police to be able to enforce the drug peddlers from the streets.”
“Several times over the past few years,” he disclosed, “the board has provided the necessary logistical support and it is up to the police to be able to enforce the removal of these drug peddlers from the streets,” he said.
“Combating drug peddling,” Mr Johnson pointed out, “is more of a community based action.”
“We are a regulatory body and not a law enforcement agency, and therefore we are there to ensure that people do not sell this product by way of [ensuring police action against defaulters], he highlighted.
Mr Johnson also heightened that the judiciary had not been helpful in the campaign against drug peddlers; “we’ve been having problems with the judiciary. Many a time the police go out there and arrest these drug peddlers, and unfortunately by the time they get to court the fine levied on these drug peddlers are so minimal that they literally tend to just put their hands in their pockets and pay,” the acting registrar said.
“The new drive we have undertaken”, he stated, “is to embark on active collaboration with the judiciary to know how they can actually fine drug peddlers maximally,” adding that the board was also focusing its attention on the wholesalers to ensure that they did not sell legally registered subscriptions to unauthorized retailers such as these drug peddlers.
“We are going through an evolving process and I can assure you that much is being done to address the problem,” he said.
With regards to the board’s illicit peddling campaign, he said, “success has been achieved to an extent, but not the extent which we desire that is why we’ve turned our attention to educating the public; because what happens is that we find out that these drug peddlers are not only selling illegal drugs but counterfeit ones as well,” Mr Johnson explained.
“In as much as we’ve been trying to enforce the removal of these drug peddlers from the streets” he accentuated, “to a very limited extent of success we‘ve now turned our attention to educating the people that we should not be encouraged to buy drugs in the streets.”
Responding to whether mere radio adverts had had its desired effects in halting this illicit trade he said, “unfortunately our community sensitization campaign has only lasted for few weeks and we have not yet evaluated the success of the campaign.”
As it stands, Mr Johnson disclosed, “we have only been using the UN radio which has been offering free services in making adverts on behalf of the pharmacy board.”
The acting registrar explained that the board did not have the resources to conduct radio interviews, talk shows, skits and adverts as of now.
He disclosed that the board had received donor funding mainly for medicines regulation, adding that, “drug regulation by itself is far more reaching and has many more implications than just community sensitization; it involves quality control, inspection, adverse drug reaction monitoring.”
“The greatest problem we have right now,” he disclosed, “is the issue of counterfeit drugs, where majority of our resources is being used as at now,” he said.
“It is not that the irrational use of drugs is not important, before you can use a drug you have to ensure that the drugs is of good quality so we have to prioritized in that area,” he stressed.
Reacting to the effect illegal peddlers had on registered drug stores, Mr Sahid Kargbo proprietor of the Tankoro Pharmacy said, “those of us who operate registered drug stores incur lots of expenditure buy paying our registration fee which is generating income for the country, paying taxes and employing professionals, who are also paid, but peddlers evade all these taxes and sell almost all the drugs we are selling at a much more cheaper cost”.