‘Medical practitioners supplying drug to black market’

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HARARE – Medical practitioners are supplying the black market with pethidine — a post-surgery painkiller — resulting in artificial shortages of the drug, a health expert has claimed.

Psychiatric expert Munyaradzi Madhombiro told the Daily News on Sunday that the drug is being used as an illicit intoxicant by addicts.

His revelations come as Zimbabwe is constantly dogged by shortages of pethidine, which prompts major referral hospitals to sometimes suspend non-emergency surgical procedures.

“A drug which is very important now is pethidine. Pethidine is a painkiller which is used to numb pain after a surgical operation. If it is given three or four times people tend to enjoy it so much that users start to look for it on the black market.

“There are so many patients who are now dependent on pethidine and that is a big issue.

“It is worrying because once someone becomes dependent on it; it is very difficult to wean them off it,” Madhombiro said.

“What is happening at the moment is that the little that is in the hospitals is being smuggled out by some nurses and doctors but the big chunk is coming from Zambia.

“One of my patients told me that they spent $4 000 on pethidine which was brought in from Zambia. If you go onto the streets, you will find viles that are written ‘Manufactured in Zambia’.

“We however, doubt that it is manufactured in Zambia, we think it is just a conduit for smuggling,” he said.

Health ministry permanent secretary Gerald Gwinji warned that drugs such as pethidine are classified under the Dangerous Drugs Act, as they had a high potential of being abused by people.

“They contain a substance of what we call opioids; they have a very high addictive risk and therefore potential use or abuse in terms of people trying to get euphorically, so they are strictly regulated.

“So the prescription of that type of medicine has to follow a certain format and process. It’s not an ordinary prescription that is just dispensed without certain things having been written down,” he said.

“They are provisions in the law that should you require that type of medication beyond a certain period, the secretary for health has to give authority.

“And we have got a couple of patients who are on things like that because some have chronic pain from massive accidents, several surgeries, spine injuries  and so forth, and who can only be on pethidine or morphine.

“So periodically an application is written with the number of vials, the dose and the duration and we approve that and it’s kept on record,” Gwinji said.

He added that while the drug was not easily accessible, addicts would try and beat the system by clandestinely faking illness or using forged prescriptions.

“That’s why you cannot get it as frequent at the private sector, because it will expire in stock.  And the way they are distributed is tied to one doctor, one pharmacy, you can’t get the supply here and then next time you get it at another pharmacy.

“It’s not an ordinary pain killer that you just throw about, it’s needed during certain stages of recovery,” he said.