Cost of pain killers surges by 200% in Nigeria


In the bustling heart of Lagos, 58-year-old Emeka Joshua, a retired teacher, stands at the counter of a local pharmacy.


With a furrowed brow, he hesitates before reluctantly handing over. N800 more for a routine pain medication.


β€œThese drugs used to cost me half of this price just last year,” he remarks, echoing a growing concern among millions across Nigeria.

Since 2022, the cost of pain medicines in Nigeria has surged by over 200%, placing a significant burden on the shoulders of ordinary Nigerians.


Amidst an economy grappling with soaring inflation and a depreciating currency, this increase is more than just a statistic. It is a daily challenge affecting the health and finances of countless individuals.


Recommended reading: FG to sign executive order to curb escalating drug prices

Factors behind the surge



In March 2024, the already strained pockets of Nigerian consumers faced yet another challenge as the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported an alarming inflation rate of 33.2%.


This significant increase from the previous year’s 22.04% in March 2023 highlights a troubling trend of steadily rising costs across various sectors, including food, beverages, electricity, fuel, and housing.

Such increases have not only strained household budgets but have also sharply pushed up the prices of essential items, notably pain medications.

The inflation rate in 2022 stood at 18.85%, up from 16.95% the year before.

This gradual yet persistent rise has cascaded into a severe impact by 2024, directly affecting the affordability of healthcare.

Pain medications, critical for managing chronic and acute conditions, have seen their prices surge, placing them out of reach for many.


In 2022, the US Dollar to Nigerian Naira exchange rate saw fluctuations, averaging around 445.42 Naira per US Dollar in December. The monthly rates peaked at 448.84 and dipped to a low of 443.83 during the same period.


The current average exchange rate hovers around 1147.029 Naira per US Dollar (April 2024), marking a staggering 158% increase from the rates observed in 2022.


This rate, which is the most favourable of the year, highlights a sharp contrast to the near 2000 Naira per US Dollar rates at the year’s start.

This escalation in the exchange rate has profound implications for the pharmaceutical sector, notably impacting the costs associated with manufacturing, importing raw materials, and acquiring equipment and machinery.

Additionally, expenses related to logistics, distribution, and packaging materials have surged, compounding the challenges faced by pharmaceutical companies in managing operational costs and maintaining reasonable pricing for essential medications like pain relievers.

Nairametrics has put together a comprehensive comparison of over-the-counter pain medication prices, detailing the changes between 2022 and 2024.


Implications of rising medication costs on Nigerians

A pharmacist who spoke to Nairametrics under the condition of anonymity highlighted that the escalating prices of medications have significantly affected pharmacy sales.


The pharmacist noted that as prices climb, Nigerians are increasingly turning to more affordable alternatives, including herbal concoctions, or buying smaller quantities of pain medications than usual.

β€œRegarding changes in consumer behaviour, people are opting for less expensive options if available. When specific medications are necessary, they purchase them in smaller amounts,” the pharmacist explained.


One customer shared with Nairametrics his strategy of enduring pain to minimise medication costs, resorting to painkillers only when absolutely necessary.


β€œI try to manage the pain before deciding to buy medicines,” he said.


Healthcare professionals have expressed concerns that rising costs are severely impacting medication adherence.


β€œThis leads to misuse,” noted one health worker. β€œMost patients take a single dose and then try to see how long they can last before the pain forces them to take another.”


To combat the financial strain of these price increases, another health worker suggested practical steps for consumers:


β€œNigerians should consider health insurance. They can register through the NHIS or HMOs to cover basic medications. Those who are insured should maximise their benefits.”

With an optimistic outlook, some healthcare professionals hope for stabilisation in medication prices. β€œIf the naira strengthens and inflation rate begins to decrease, we expect the cost of medicines to reduce as well,” they commented.


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