The Sunday Mail
WHETHER it’s desperate times calling for desperate measures, or it is a question of ignorance on the part of consumers, dangerous developments are happening in the pharmaceutical industry.
Most medicines, whether prescriptions or over-the-counter, have expiry dates.
Before this date, the manufacturer guarantees the user of full potency and effectiveness.
When the product expires, it means it has come to the end of its shelf life. It ceases to be effective.
But for one reason or another, some pharmacies and members of the public are disregarding these expiry dates.
Pharmacists who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Sunday Mail Society said some medicines currently on sale are long past their shelf life.
They claim to have vast knowledge on the medicines, adding that their action is in the “best interests of consumers”.
“Yes, drugs have expiry dates but we use discretion. Some of the drugs do not lose potency two or three years after their expiration dates, hence we keep selling them,” revealed one pharmacist.
“It does not make business sense to dispose the expired drugs when they can still be used by our clients. Things are tough. It is now difficult to restock because of foreign currency shortages, hence the need to maximise on profits,” said another pharmacist.
Drugs are now priced beyond the reach of many, while other dealers are even demanding foreign currency, which is not readily available to most consumers.
While some people might have consumed expired drugs because of not applying due diligence — checking expiry dates — others are willing accomplices.
Mildred Mapuranga, a Mabvuku resident said, “I suffer from arthritis and regularly need heavy painkillers. Sadly the drug prices have sky rocketed and I can hardly afford them. I was lucky to discover a pharmacy that is now selling me the painkillers at a much discounted price.
“I was told the drugs expired two or so months back but they are still efficient. I was sceptical at first but later realised that the medication is still providing the relief I need,” narrated Mapuranga.
Then there are those who end up consuming out of date drugs because of their hoarding tendencies.
Dispensaries usually do not limit no-prescription drugs to clients.
Due to the prevailing economic squeeze, some people source drugs from different benefactors and end up with more than what they need. Therefore some of the drugs expire before they can be consumed.
This is the predicament that Gogo Eunice Maramba finds herself in.
She has a whole year’s stock of tablets for her medical condition.
Sadly, some of the medication is now 10 or so months past expiration.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Agnes Mahomva said Government does not allow dispensing of expired drugs to patients.
“Those involved should stop giving out drugs that have outlived their shelf life because they are putting the lives of many people in danger.
“Drugs should first be analysed by the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) before they are given to patients. When any drug has passed the marked expiry date, it should be avoided,” said Dr Mahomva.
The Government official further urged the public to report such practices to the police or relevant authorities.
MCAZ projects and public relations officer Mr Shingai Gwatidzo said their organisation conducts regular inspections in pharmacies to ensure adherence to regulations.
“Any extension of expiry must be approved by the authority after conducting due diligence on the quality and safety profile of the medicines. Without that approval, members of the public are advised that the safety and quality of such medicines is not guaranteed,” said Mr Gwatidzo.
Section 51 of the Medicines and Allied Substances Control General Regulations Statutory Instrument 150 of 1991 prohibits the sale of expired medicines.
In trying to understand the effects of expired drugs, The Sunday Mail Society spoke to various health professionals.
Professor Ishmail Muradzikwa, a part time clinical studies lecturer at a local university who is a pharmacist by profession, said not all drugs retain their potency after the expiry date.
“A lot of drugs are safe to use and are effective even 10 years after their expiry date. However, I would not advise people to consume them as some tend to become poisonous after passing their shelf life,” said Prof Muradzikwa.
“Expiry dates are there for a reason and should be respected. This is particularly important for vulnerable populations like children or the elderly, or those with chronic or serious conditions. If your medicine has expired, dispose of it and do so safely,” he said.
Dr George Nyarangwa, a pharmacologist, is totally against the idea of consuming expired medicines.
“Medicines that have outlived their shelf life can be less effective or risky due to a change in chemical composition or a decrease in strength. Certain expired medications are at risk of bacterial growth. Sub-potent antibiotics can fail to treat infections, leading to more serious illnesses and antibiotic resistance,” explained Dr Nyarangwa. He said the new pharmacies mushrooming around town are usually behind such practices.
“These sprouting pharmacies are lining their pockets at the expense of consumers, putting their lives at risk,” he said.
Other health experts say a slight loss of potency in an antibiotic can negatively impact recovery as the drug may not reach the optimum healing levels required to eliminate bacterial infections.
This in turn will lead to drug resistant diseases and health complications.
A report by Harvard Health Publications (2015), conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration found that almost 90 percent of more than 100 drugs are safe for use and effective even 15 years after the expiry date.
But such researches create more questions than answers.
Are expiry dates a ploy by manufactures to stay in business by forcing consumers to periodically replenish their stocks?
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