There is growing increase in the abuse and illegal export of the pain killer known as Tramadol in Africa according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNOC).
Tramadol is an opioid that is widely used to treat moderate to severe pain, and has also been used in the treatment of sexual dysfunction, such as premature ejaculation.
The non-medical use of Tramadol has been reported by many countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia and Togo, and many have put Tramadol under national control in recent years.
The drug was initially under the radar but continued press exposure of its abuse brought it to the attention of the World Health Organisation but this only looks to have driven up the demand and use of the drug.
In places like northern Nigeria and Cameroon, farmers are taking and also feeding it to their cattle while long distance commercial drivers are known to favour the drug to give them an edge on their journeys.
The increasing addiction to this particular opioid has caught the attention of authorities in Ghana for example where the Upper West Regional Manager of the Pharmacy Council of the country, Mr Latif Agyei-Wiredu observed that most users of the drug unknowingly consider it as a sexual performance enhancing drug saying that “the stimulating effect of the drug is like that of heroin and cocaine which makes people “go high” and feel like they are on cloud nine with precarious consequences”.
According the World Drug Report for 2017, countries in the Middle East reported seizures of 310 kg in 2012; a quantity that increased to over 22 tons in 2014. Similarly, in Benin, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Niger and the Sudan, over 300 kg of Tramadol were seized in 2013 and over 2.6 tons in 2014. In 2015, Benin alone reported a seizure of 110 tons of the substance.
The details of the report make for scary reading especially the number of teenagers who are users of the drug.In a study of secondary school students in Egypt in 2013, the most commonly used substances were Tramadol, cannabis and alcohol.
Different studies have concluded that the high levels of misuse of Tramadol are a result of its easy availability in pharmacies and on the illicit market (as it is trafficked in large quantities), its lower price compared with illicit drugs, perceptions among users that Tramadol is safe as it is a prescription medication, and the ease with which it can be hidden