At the Maryland sex drugs market, the drugs are sold openly like sweets and biscuits to anyone, thereby exposing the lives of people to great risk
■ It’s sad people are buying death with their money – NAFDAC
Henry Okonkwo and Naomi Agha
Maryland junction, a bustling bus stop in the Lagos metropolis, is growing into a thriving location for the sales of illicit libido enhancing drugs, which are peddled in full view of motorists and passersby. During the day, and even at night, the area witnesses a non-stop flurry of activities. In the vicinity of the junction, hectic traffic, a school of hawkers scrambling about the highway hustling their wares, a mélange of commercial entities, very busy fast-food joints and buzzing petrol stations, keep activities at peak level.
The peddlers of the drugs, mostly men within the age range 30 to 40 years, could be easily spotted milling around the filling station close to a popular fast food joint. Even when you fail to notice them, they call your attention by making a queer sound, and then brandish their packets of sex pills for you.
Ordinarily, one needs a doctor’s prescription to use sildenarfil, a libido enhancement drug, sold under the popular brand name, Viagra, which has sort of become a generic name for this class of drugs just like Coke, which is a common name for soda drinks in Nigeria. However, most of the drugs that enhance sexual performance, which are sold along the roads in Nigeria are fake.
On the day Sunday Sun visited the area, at least five of the sellers were seen hawking illicit sex drugs. Most of the drugs imported from India and China do not have NAFDAC registration numbers. And their prizes range from N300 to N1,000.
The packets of the drugs have depictions of brazenly exaggerated photos of the erect male organ on the packets. They also have lewd and suggestive names like Golden Gun, Kombo Penis, Super Lion, Double Man, Bangbros, Dragon Power and Sex Promo. Also, the real Viagra comes in a shade of blue, but some of the counterfeit brands hawked at street corners are in a variety of colours of the rainbow, ranging from orange, red, black to green.
One of the hawkers while promoting the drug, promised that it would give maximum ‘power and enjoyment’ during sex. He dipped his hands in his bag and brought out more shiny packets and colourful blisters of the sex pills, hoping to entice this correspondent. “Use this one,” he said, as he handed out three packets of the drugs.
He then went on to prescribe how to take the drugs. “Make sure you eat very well before you take it. Take one pill five minutes before ‘action.’ It will give you an erection that would make you last for three days nonstop,” he boasted.
When asked if it was safe for use, the seller swore about the drug’s efficacy. “Walahi after using these drugs, you’ll come back looking for me to buy more.”
Sunday Sun noticed that some of the purported sex enhancing pills purchased from the hawkers and street corners have a dosage of 200mg and 250mg, while the legitimate ones usually come in dosages of 50mg to 100mg.
At the Maryland sex drugs market, the drugs are sold openly like sweets and biscuits to anyone, thereby exposing the lives of people to great risk and danger.
A medical expert, Dr Charles Odionye of i-Well Medical Consult told Sunday Sun that such products could “potentially be counterfeits or adulterated with undeclared content or banned ingredients.
“As they are manufactured under unknown conditions, they may not contain the correct ingredients, or the right dosages.”
He said the products could also contain anti-impotency compounds that if taken without medical supervision, might cause a loss of vision and hearing, stroke and priapism, which is a painful and exceedingly long erection.
“If priapism is not treated immediately, it may lead to permanent impotence,” he warned.
Despite the health risks, many men continue to buy such drugs because of the anonymity it affords, and the social stigma attached to medical conditions like erectile dysfunction (ED).
READ ALSO: How to survive erectile dysfunction
“In Nigeria, medicines approved to treat ED currently require a doctor’s prescription,” Dr Fred Baridonwe, a healthcare practitioner at ProLife Clinic Lagos, explained.
He hinted that not consulting a doctor might mean missing out on “diagnosing a potentially fatal heart condition, which could have been found out in the course of taking the person’s medical history.
“It is important to understand that ED may be caused by old age as well as by diseases like diabetes, obesity, hypertension and sometimes medication. It is also important to know that one cannot take an ED drug if he has a heart disease and is taking a form of medication called nitrates. This combination can and will trigger a heart attack.”
Besides the anonymity, another family health practitioner based in Enugu, Dr Victor Nnaemeka, said that some opt for banned products because they are cheaper.
He said it costs about less than N500 to get a box of four ‘Viagra’ tablets from a hawker, hence people would easily go for that rather than going to a hospital. “The price difference between seeing a doctor plus taking the original medicine versus going to the streets to buy is very great,” he said.
The Director, Public Affairs of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Dr Abubakar Jimoh, said that in the absence of medical centres in the rural areas, “drug hawkers have filled the vacuum at the hinterlands. In such villages they’re regarded as mobile doctors, pharmacists, dispensers; all in one. And that’s why government is paying much attention at establishing primary health centers in the rural areas.”
Despite attempts by the authorities to clamp down on the illicit trade, sales of fake sex drugs continues to boom and hawked in traffic jams in the major urban centres. Jimoh in a chat with Sunday Sun noted that the battle to contain and reduce the circulation of fake and adulterated drugs has not been easy.
“It has been like a hide-and-seek battle against these fake drug peddlers. Even when we clamp down on one location they find their way to another area. Since the coming of NAFDAC in 1993, we’ve waged a ceaseless and ferocious battle on these drug hawkers. But the issue of hawking is a cultural and attitudinal problem in the country. Drugs are supposed to be sacred and purchased at registered places. It is an aberration that people hawk drugs along the road,” he said.
He said that NAFDAC had to switch to other methods in combating fake sex enhancing drug peddlers when the enforcement strategy wasn’t paying off.
“NAFDAC started with enforcement by raiding, arresting and persecuting these peddlers. But we found out that it wasn’t paying off. Our staff strength could not sustain the strategy. We’re less than 3000 officials superintending over the health of 180 million Nigerians. So we won’t go far in the war if stick with enforcements alone.”
However, NAFDAC, he said, has not totally ditched the idea of arresting the fake drug dealers and hawkers.
READ ALSO: Goodbye to open drug markets
He explained: “Though we have not stopped raiding these fake drug hawkers, but we’ve also taken
to creating more awareness and sensitizing the public to stay away from buying any kind of drug
sold in public places and along the road. That way people are made to understand that their destiny is in their hands.”
Jimoh lamented the crass ignorance of the buyers of sex enhancing drugs hawked on the road and at street corners: “Drugs, when hawked or displayed on the road loses its potency. It could even become poisonous because it has been exposed to all kinds of weather. So purchasing these drugs is like buying death with your money. Nigerians must be made to this understand this.”
Those convicted of selling illegal health products face imprisonment of up to two years and or a fine of up to N500,000. But this sanction according to the Director General of NAFDAC, Prof Mojisola Christiana Adeyeye, is not punitive enough to deter the drug fakers.
“A situation where a convict is sentenced to two years in prison with an option of the maximum statutory fine of N500, 000 is a nudge on the counterfeiters not even a slap. There is need for stiffer sentencing, confiscation of the assets of the convict and adequate compensation of the victim(s) of the crime, among other measures.”