There is an alarming abuse of pain medication Tramadol in Africa and it’s no child’s play

Farida Dawkins April 26, 2018
Tramadol capsules...Pulse NG

Drug use is widespread. Glorified in mainstream media for its promises of extra energy, hedonism, and easy accessibility, narcotics seem like a viable option against pain, both physical and emotional. The use of drugs in Africa is a growing concern and in particular the access and use of Tramadol.

Tramadol is a synthetic drug used to treat moderate to severe pain. The opioid medication rewires your brain in responding differently to pain.  It also makes the patient more susceptible to addiction. Other negative side effects include nausea, seizures, and restlessness.

Tramadol is often recommended for quelling post-surgery pain and for the treatment of cancer patients.

What also attracts users to the drug is its price and availability in pharmacies and via street-side vendors.  Tramadol use and dispersion is not internationally regulated and is sold at a low price.

Doctors without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières categorize Tramadol as an essential narcotic.

According to the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme, in 2015, “the Nigerian government’s Inter-Ministerial Committee on Drug Control released a National Drug Control Master Plan (NDCMP). The plan calls for a strategy that balances enforcement and interdiction efforts with ‘drug demand reduction’ in a manner that respects human rights and gender equality.”

“The law enforcement pillar of the plan acknowledges that the targeting of low-level drug dealers and users tends to be ineffective and even counterproductive in addressing drug supply chains, and emphasises investigations that target “mid- to high-level suppliers and producers of drugs.”

Table indicating Tramadol use in Nigeria…Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme report

Clearly, there is a problem. The aforementioned report states that Tramadol usage occurs in every state in Nigeria and usage is high.

In Gabon where the drug is referred to as “Kobolo,” it is taken with beverages such as energy drinks, alcohol, soda, and juices to mask its bitter aftertaste.  “It’s easier to ask who in our state schools is not taking kobolo,” stated Chantal, a music teacher in a Libreville high school. It is often sold by street vendors.

In Ghana, 25-year-old Kojo SK uses Tramadol before having sex with his girlfriend. He says: “It is not my habit to be taking in tramadol but I take it purposely to enhance my sexual performance. I’m able to last longer during sex normally between 3 to 4 hours. It gives me energy and my girlfriend enjoys it because she has the stamina.”

Image published in Ghanaian media depicting Tramadol use…Tilapia

SK also noted the downside to using “Tramol”; another name for the narcotic in Ghana. He’s witnessed one friend collapse and later die while playing soccer. Another friend fell while riding on a motorcycle. Both were high on “Tramol”.

Farmers located in Northern Cameroon take the drug to alleviate the hardships of farming; they also feed it to their cattle to enable them to work in the harsh environmental conditions.

Many farmers in northern Cameroon say they give tramadol to their cattle to help them work harder. The pills are widely sold on the streets of Garoua…Wall Street Journal

Even with attempts to centralize the use of Tramadol by the implementation of laws, it is still a widely-used recreational drug.

Besides Tramadol, another opiate which is equally popular and killing many young people is Codeine. It is used in most cough syrups like Benylin which is sold over-the-counter without the need for prescriptions.

A research by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) of Nigeria in 2017 found that more than three million bottles of codeine syrup were consumed daily in two northern Nigerian towns of Kano and Jigawa. A consumer takes up to three to eight bottles daily, the report added.

The Nigerian Senate later called for an investigation into the growing abuse of the codeine cough syrup and other drugs to check the spreading menace in the country.

The same situation has been reported in Ghana.

So what’s next? Should the drug be banned from import into countries with no regulations regarding its use? Should it only be available at the hospital under the strict monitoring of a physician?

It is up to lawmakers and governments to initiate a more proactive measure to curb the abuse of the medication. The situation right now is dire.

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