Sierra Leoneans Struggle with Opioid Addication

Fredrick Ngugi February 15, 2017
Drug addicts in Sierra Leone. Aljazeera.

In addition to the devastating effects of Ebola, the government of Sierra Leone is currently struggling to end the widespread abuse of illegal opioids, prescription-only drugs that act on the nervous system to relieve pain.

These little-known pills are now at the center of a devastating addiction menace in Sierra Leone, with a huge chunk of the population depending on them for a wide range of reasons, including increased sexual performance, reports Aljazeera.

Wilshire Johnson, the president of Sierra Leone’s pharmacy board, says that over the last few years, the country has experienced an upsurge in the use of illegal tramadol (a cheap opioid painkiller with stimulating effects) and the increasing number of addicts is overwhelming the country’s meager drug rehabilitation services.

“Right now, our biggest problem is people having access to illegal tramadol, either through peddlers on the streets or pharmacies abusing their privileges,” Johnson said.

Johnson attributes the growing epidemic to increased youth gang activities across the country as well as the country’s poor health sector.

Addiction Crisis


In August 2016, Sierra Leone’s pharmaceutical regulators declared tramadol abuse a public health emergency [Cooper Inveen/Al Jazeera]

In an interview, Ibrahim Sesay, a 27-year-old motorbike rider in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, revealed that he and his fellow taxi drivers have been taking tramadol to stay awake while at work.

He added that even though he only started taking the pills in December last year, he has gradually become an addict and can no longer function without a dosage every morning.

Sesay started taking just one 225-milligram pill a day but now has to take 900 milligrams in order to satisfy his craving.

“I have to take it when I wake up or I feel sick. It is scares me because I don’t really know what to do and I think it’s getting worse,” he said.

Some people are also adding the pills to alcoholic drinks in order to boost its effect.

This addiction has led to an increase in the demand of tramadol in the streets of Sierra Leone, giving rise to a thriving black market.

Despite the government’s efforts to regulate the prescription of tramadol by licensed pharmacies, the pills are being smuggled in to the country through its highly porous borders or sold under the table without prescriptions.

The crisis has become so extreme that the government of Sierra Leone declared tramadol abuse a public health emergency in August 2016.

Tramadol was developed and marketed as “Tramal” by the giant German pharmaceutical company Grunenthal GmbH in 1977 with the purpose of helping patients relieve chronic pain.

But over the years, tramadol dependence has spread across the world, with experts warning that its continued flow to unstable and under-regulated countries will most likely lead to widespread abuse and trafficking across the globe.

Last Edited by:Abena Agyeman-Fisher Updated: February 15, 2017


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