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Customs winning war against smugglers of harmful drugs

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NIGERIA is a country of over 180 million population, and in the past one year, the country has been under siege by unpatriotic citizens who imported banned substances such as tramadol, codeine and hard drugs into the country unabated.

The country is a target market by most developed nations for its products because of the advantage of a large population with a high percentage of youths.

According to the National Population Commission (NPC), as at 2016, Nigeria had an estimated population of over 193 million with an annual population growth rate of 3.2 per cent, and over 41 per cent of Nigeria’s population are under the age of 15.

Also, according to the 2017 revision of the World Population Prospects, the total population was 185,989,640 in 2016, compared to only 37,860,000 in 1950. The proportion of children under the age of 15 in 2010 was 44.0 per cent, 53.2 per cent was between 15 and 65 years of age, while 2.7 per cent was 65 years or older. There is a large population momentum, with 3.2 per cent growth rate leading to the projected population.

However, lack of broad – based support and inclusive economic growth and lack of youth access to education, jobs and skills have pushed Nigerian youths into seeing drugs as a refuge.

Though tramadol is not under trade prohibition, it is controlled and regulated and where importers import milligrammes over and above the 100 milligrammes controlled limit, the law is infringed upon.

Also, the ban placed on tramadol by the Indian government in 2017, has made Nigeria an alternative market for the consumption of banned substance by the Nigerian youthful population and since then, it has been heavily imported into the country from India and China.

With severe symptoms of tramadol abuse which include seizures and central nervous system depression. CNS depression is when the central nervous system slows down to the point where the heart rate and breathing decreases, which can lead to loss of consciousness, coma, and potentially, even death.

Another potentially dangerous side effect of tramadol abuse is serotonin syndrome, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. It occurs when too much serotonin, a chemical that relays signals in the brain, is produced or remains in the brain. Serotonin syndrome most commonly occurs in patients who take tramadol and antidepressants at the same time.

But, the government has begun clampdown on importation of banned drugs and stricter control on others.

For instance, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) said tramadol with a street value of N193 billion was seized in one year.

Director-general of the agency, Prof. Moji Adeyeye, said the seizures were made during a joint examination of containers at the Apapa port, Lagos which was coordinated by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).

According to Adeyeye, about 23 out of 80 40ft containers on the agency’s watch list since November 2017, were examined on Wednesday, November 14 and Thursday, November 15 and it contained tramadol.

The statement read in part, “These examined containers consist of 128,922 cartons of high strength of tramadol (120mg, 200mg, 225mg and 250mg), which was estimated to be worth about N6,446,100,000 in addition to 321,146 cartons of other unregistered pharmaceutical products. The worth of tramadol on the street is estimated to be at about N193,383,000,000 on an average cost of N1,500,000 per carton of tramadol.”

She said the drugs emanated from India, adding that the seizure was an outcome of previous communications with the comptroller general of the Nigeria Customs Service in September 2018, about containers suspected to be conveying tramadol and other unregistered pharmaceuticals, as well as other NAFDAC- regulated products.

She said about 23 40ft containers examined so far were loaded with tramadol of various strengths from 120mg to 250mg and other unregistered pharmaceutical products that are known to be injurious to the health of the public, most importantly the youths.

“Since then, the Port Inspections Directorate of NAFDAC has been tracking these containers with daily update on the progress,” Adeyeye said.

Adeyeye said the prevention of these dangerous drugs from entering into the Nigerian markets would protect millions of youths from hazards of drug addiction which can pose a threat to families, Nigerian workforce and the security of the nation at large.

“Of course, this would have increased the number of casualties from insurgency, armed robbery and other social vices which are known to be the aftermath effect of use of illicit drugs,” the NAFDAC boss said.

However, since this particular seizure, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has been on seizing spree of tramadol and other harmful substances imported into the country.

In February 2018, customs seized four containers of banned drugs, which arrived from India at Tin Can ports .

The then head of customs at the seaport, Jubrin Musa, said the drugs were not certified by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) as they exceeded required limits.

Also, another 35 containers were seized in June, while 59 container loads were intercepted by Apapa, Tin Can and Onne command of the Service in November 2018.

Despite the massive seizures, the importers have refused to abate as the Service continued massive seizure of the banned substance in 2019.

So far, the Service has intercepted about 15 containers of tramadol in the first half of 2019, with over 10 seizures recorded by the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) and it has vowed not to relent until it rid the country of importation of dangerous drugs.

Speaking in an interview, the Customs Area Controller of the Federal Operations Unit, Zone A, Ikeja, Compt. Aliyu Mohammed, said he has been under tremendous pressure from the importers of the banned drugs that he can no longer walk safely for fear of attacks.

“When last did you see me in the public, when I leave my house, I only go to the office and the airport, if I dare travel out of Lagos on my own, I will be killed because I am fighting these drug traffickers,” he said.

He however said he would not relent on ridding the country of distribution of the drugs which he said had affected productivity of Nigerian youths.

Also speaking on the side effects of the drugs on youths, the director, Port Inspection of the Nations Agency for Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Professor Samson Adebayo, said the seized drugs especially, tramadol and diclofenac trigger heart attacks for the users.

Adebayo, who commended the inter agency cooperation between NAFDAC and the customs disclosed that the drugs originated from India.

“Powerman is a type of drug for sexual enhancement for men but unfortunately it wasn’t registered and al so the strength is higher than a registrable strength. What we register is NAFDAC is 50 milligrams and on a rare occasion 100milligram and there are few 100miligram registered. Also, this powerman is 130miligramme meaning anyone using it is prone to cardiac arrest.

“Also, now that there are reports of men dying during sexual intercourse, then they must have taken sexual enhancement drugs to enhance their performance. So, they should desist from taking drugs not registered because this are type of drugs carried by hawkers without any professional guidance.

“That is why we create awareness to let people know the danger of what we consume because when we consume something hazardous, it goes a long way to worsen one’s health condition,” he explained.

 

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