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Nigerians abusing painkiller drugs

By Maria Famakinwa

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Many Nigerians patronise chemist shops nearer to them to buy drugs once they observe any changes in their health instead of visiting hospitals for proper treatments. The most abused drugs, according to findings are the analgesics popularly referred to as painkillers. Consumers of these drugs buy over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, without medical prescription which they believe will ease the stress of going to the hospital and at the same time save them some money.

Self-medication has become a common practice in many developing countries like Nigeria mainly due to a lack of access to health care, easy availability of over-the-counter drugs in markets, and poor drug regulatory practices. Despite warnings by medical practitioners that prolonged use of painkillers can cause irreversible damage to the liver and might even lead to death is not enough reason for Nigerians to stop using the drugs without prescription. Those who spoke with The Hope revealed the reasons for the continuous use of analgesics.

A petty trader, Mrs Aina Foluwaso, who revealed that she uses painkiller drugs almost every day for joint pains added that if she failed to use them, she would not be able to sleep due to the serious pain in her joints.

Asked if the drugs she bought were prescribed by a medical practitioner ,she said: “I bought the drugs based on my previous experience of medical treatment of the same symptoms. I went to the hospital two years ago when I just started feeling joint pains. A series of tests were conducted and the drugs which were prescribed for me were effective. Since then, I wrote the name of the drugs and kept them so that anytime I have similar pains I buy the drugs and use which has been working for me. I don’t think there is any reason to visit the hospital when I have the solution right with me,” she said.

 A commercial driver, Mr Haruna Tijani, who also uses painkillers often adduced the reason to want of time. He said: “The peak period of my business as a commercial driver is in the morning and that is the time I am expected to be at the hospital to see medical doctors, which means that I must choose between the two options. What I do anytime I feel sick is to visit a chemist’s shop in my street, and complain about how I am feeling. They will combine some drugs for me and I feel well after taking them. That is how I care for my health which I think is better than spending the whole day in the hospital with huge medical bills.”

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Sharing a similar view, a labourer, Mrs. Kehinde Oluola, sees nothing wrong with using painkiller drugs in as much as one is getting the desired results. The woman who said that it was general knowledge that anyone who felt sick should go for painkiller drugs maintained that going to the hospital was a waste of time and resources.

Her words: “I take painkiller drugs almost every day because of the nature of my job. I am a site worker and I rely daily on painkiller drugs to sustain me on the job. If you can understand the tedious work of site workers, you will agree with me that it requires regular taking of painkiller drugs to continue the job because it is energy-sapping. There is a drug that one of the site workers just introduced to me, it is very effective. I have added it to the one I am using before for complete wellness.”

On why she did not seek medical attention, she said that it is easier to buy over-the-counter drugs than waste time in the hospital moving from one place to the other. “I don’t think it is necessary to go to the hospital since the drugs I am using are effective. Aside from the fact that they will be sending one from one place to the other for different tests at the hospital, I don’t have money to spend. I know why I am feeling pain and I know what to use. Going to the hospital will be a waste of time,” she insisted.

An artisan, who simply gave his name as Babajide, said that he uses painkiller drugs because he knows what to use for a particular ailment. He said: “If I am having a headache now, I know what to use and the same drugs will be given to me if I go to the hospital. What then is the essence of wasting my time in the hospital?

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“There was a time when one of my children was sick and was taken to the hospital, for almost two hours, we were being directed from one place to the other for tests before we were taken to another place to see the doctor where we met another crowd waiting for the same purpose. All these discouraged people from going to the hospital. Had we not met someone who assisted us in seeing the doctor on that day, probably we would not have been attended to because some people were later told to come back the second day because the doctors could not attend to all of us on that day. Honestly, I understood what they meant because there were  just five doctors on ground on that day and the patients were many. You could see on their countenance that they were overwhelmed.

“I don’t like going through such experiences again likewise many others which is the reason some prefer to do self-medication by using over-the-counter medicine. The government should take a step to discourage Nigerians from self-medication. By so doing, it will address the abuse of painkiller drugs. Let our hospitals be well-equipped with good drugs and well-qualified doctors. At least to have 40 patients to a doctor daily and reduce the amount charged from patients will encourage people to be visiting hospitals for proper medication,” he said.

Speaking on the side effects of continuous use of painkiller drugs, a medical practitioner, Mrs. Omowumi Osuji, who advised people against abusing painkiller drugs hinted that depending on painkillers to manage chronic pain could damage vital organs of the body, especially the liver if taken over a long period.

The physicians explained that the reason why over-reliance on painkillers could cause such massive damage to the liver and kidneys was because they reduce the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that help to protect these organs.

She said: “Painkillers can lead to severe health complications by destroying the body’s natural defense mechanisms. The practice of self-medication is a global phenomenon (Danshana, 2014). Every day, all over the world, individuals, irrespective of their level of education, engage in the act of managing their health without consulting qualified health personnel. While this is largely indisputable, the incidence of self-medication may be higher in  developing countries. Nigeria for instance stands out among the few countries of the world where medications are freely displayed for sale in unauthorized places such as markets, shops, roadside stalls, motor parks, and other public places by individuals not duly licensed. It is easy to understand then, the widespread act of self-medication in many Nigerian communities. People should be aware of the potential risks and consult with a doctor before taking any medication,” she said.

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On the excuse that patients are not immediately attended to in the hospitals, the doctor said that giving excuses for time wastage in getting attention at the hospital is not enough reason to patronize over-the-counter medicine or be involved in taking all types of painkiller drugs without prescription. “It is funny that people will prioritize something else more than their health. There is nothing wrong if one can sacrifice a day or two to see a doctor because health is wealth. Nigerians are in the habit of presenting themselves in the hospitals when their health is already critical which makes the situation difficult. The fact that they gave you a particular drug in the hospital and it’s effective does not mean that the same can be used over again for similar complaints because some drugs are resistant.

“There is a need to visit the hospital to know which drugs will be used and to use it. Going to a nearby chemist shop to buy analgesic drugs is like toying with one’s health because anybody can open a chemist shop in the country. Self-medication is dangerous, it causes more severe damage to the vital organs later on and once the vital organs are damaged the person who complained about spending a day in the hospital will now have no choice but to be admitted for days or months and will only be lucky to live to tell his/her story. Nigerians must be wise and prioritize their health. There is no justifiable reason to use any drug that is not prescribed by medical practitioners,” she warned.

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