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Why youths abuse Tramadol

By Adetokunbo Abiola
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Recently, a kidnapper died at the Owo General Hospital, after failing to regain consciousness, following a copious intake of Tramadol during a botched assault on a pharmacist.

According to news reports, the alleged kidnapper fell down during the failed kidnap attempt, became unconscious and was taken to the hospital.

Even though 30 drips were infused to revive him from his unconscious state, nothing worked, and the police could not get any information from him, including his identity.

This is one of the consequences of taking large quantities of Tramadol, a drug which has gripped the imagination of present-day young Nigerians.

Between January and December 2015, says the National Epidemiological Network on Drug Use (NENDU), 1,099 patients were admitted for treatment in 11 centres.

28% of the patients had an opiate addiction, with 71% of opiate addicts getting it from Tramadol abuse.

But many feel the problem of Tramadol addiction is much more serious, since there is really little information on how many drug users there are in the country.

With a total population over 180 million, it is likely that there are many thousands of people who are addicted to Tramadol.

One of Tramadol’s outlets is the choked Lagos Port, where an official of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) recently opened a container stacked with thousands of packets of Tramadol worth billions of naira.

The brand was Super Rolmax, made in India, with a dosage of 225mg, which is more than twice what is legal in most countries of the world.

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the label on the Tramadol packets indicated that manufacture was for  Sintex Technologies in London, a company that was dissolved in 2012.

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But this is just the beginning of the puzzle.

Tramadol, according to the BBC report is smuggled into Africa from south East Asia by international criminal gangs, with yearly seizures in sub-saharan Africa rising from 300kg per year to more than three tonnes since 2013.

Ordinarily, Tramadol is used to help relieve moderate to moderately severe pain, working in the brain to change how the body feels and responds to pain.

“People also use it for sex,” says Titus Akpuh, a reporter based in Benin City. “It enhances them so they can go several rounds of sex with women without problems.”

According to the BBC report, Tramadol is one of the few painkillers widely available to treat pain for cancer patients.

Why are kidnappers then using a drug meant to relieve pain for criminal activities, so much so that youths get knocked off by it during their nefarious operations?

This reporter learned that it is cheap, with a 10 tablet strips of 100mg Tramadol costing only 100 naira, which many youths across the country  can afford.

And though it is now banned, it is actually easy to get the drugs, with mobile drug merchants among the people selling it.

“Boys buy this Tramadol a lot, “says Hakeen, a drug cart pusher at Ojuelegba in Lagos, while speaking to Towncrieronline. “When I want to buy my drugs, I ask the warehouseman for Tramadol and he gives me a lot, since everybody is buying.”

Using Tramadol is as simple as popping a pill, since there is no odour and can be done without attracting any attention whatsoever.

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Unfortunately, the consequences of the nation’s present Tramadol problems are grave.

“Two boys died the other day when they used a lot of drugs before meeting a woman,” Titus told this reporter.

“The problem is really huge,” says Marcus Ayuba,  speaking to the BBC sometimes ago.”

Ayuba runs an NDLEA drug treatment centre in Maiduguri, and he estimates that one in three young people are addicted to the drug, which he believes can be traced to the insurgence of Boko Haram.

“People have lost everything,” he says. “They are young people who were basically farmers; they’ve lost their farms, their homes.”

At first, Tramadol enables the youths to work in their farms, as it dulls the pain of physical labour and helps to keep them awake.

But as addiction sets in, they stop going to farms, just deriving pleasure from the “high” they get from Tramadol.

Bode, while speaking to Towncrieronline, said he was first introduced to the drug during an  ASUU strike.

“My friend had moved around that time, so he used to tell me how to use it,” he says. “It was so much fun, we’d get high and just need around it.”

With time, though, Bode and his friends got addicted to the drug, and soon they stopped going to classes after ASUU called off its strike.

It wasn’t until their final exams were announced before they realized they had spent their fees on feeding their addiction to Tramadol.

To cut the long story short, they were forced out of school.

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Unlike Kano and Lagos, where thousands of empty Tramadol packets litter the streets, cities in Ondo State on the surface appear free from the growing menace.

But like the kidnapper at Owo tried to tell everyone, the perceived Tramadol-free environment could be deceptive.

Still, international organizations are hesitant about banning the drug.

Despite anecdotal evidence, the World Health Organisation has so far resisted putting international controls on the Tramadol trade.

No doubt, it fears that limiting access to the drug could cut off people who really need it, cancer patients, to relieve pain.

They will be one of the losers if WHO cracks down on Tramadol, which Nigerian youths have turned into a medication of rampant abuse.

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