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Nigeria IDPs abuse Tramadol drug to heal from horrors of Boko Haram

December 05th, 2019
topic:Health and Sanitation
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Nigeria
tags:Boko Haram, IDPs, Nigeria, Tramadol

For thousands of internally displaced persons living in camps in Northeastern Nigeria after escaping from the insurgent group Boko Haram, a minute pill has been their daily dose of relief. The Indian-manufactured pill is vital in dealing with post-traumatic stress, but its abuse has now turned many into walking zombies and created a nationwide crisis of epidemic proportions.

Tramadol is an opiod painkiller used to treat mild to severe headaches and is preferred by patients with cancer or those after surgery to nurse chronic pain. But when taken in large doses, it produces euphoric effects like those of heroin.

As more IDPs flock to the various camps especially in Nigeria’s North Eastern state of Borno, life becomes unbearable with dwindling food rations, depression after losing loved ones to the jihadist group and the desperation to numb this pain. Tramadol has been their answer. It finds its way into the camps through dealers in a well-orchestrated syndicate. The drug is predominantly also used by Boko Haram with the captured fighters, usually young boys, being given the opiod to excite them and make them courageous to carry out attacks. Taking doses of more than four at a go, they raid villages, destroying them, capturing young men and children in a state that they can’t explain. It has earned the moniker ‘the jihadist pill’

The fighters who manage to flee from Boko Haram end up in IDP camps and have been known to introduce the drug there. According to the IDPs who use the drug, they are able to go for days without eating anything allowing them to survive the harsh conditions at the camp.

Aid workers say those who use it have been known to exhibit violent behaviour that include sexual violence, fighting and bullying triggered by mood swings and a desire for aggression.

Last year The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, arrested 19 IDPs and peddlers who were either using or distributing the drug in Mogolis and Bakkasi camps in Borno state. The drug is the most abused due to the ease of its availability. Despite being a prescription drug, pharmacies easily sell it to any customer. It is also cheap, costing some $0.30 for a strip of ten tablets whose dosages go as high as 225 mg, over two times what is legal in certain countries.

But beyond the IDP camps the abuse of the opioid is creating a crisis unprecedented in the West African country. Porous borders, corruption and weak international regulations on the production and distribution of Tramadol have fuelled its influx.

Late last year, the Nigerian police seized close to 600 tablets of the drugs in one of the country’s largest ports. This operation supporting a UN statement that 87 per cent of opioids, especially Tramadol recovered worldwide were from North, Central and West Africa. Weak borders have opened a conduit through which these drugs move from neighbouring Benin which has been classified by United States Department of States as second largest destination for Tramadol worldwide after US. The NDLEA runs a drug treatment centre treating addicts and it estimates that one in three persons in the facility is addicted to the drug.

The Nigerian government has been hesitant to ban Tramadol since it continues to be an affordable and legitimate painkiller to millions of patients who depend on it. The situation is further complicated by the fact that since it is only one-tenth the strength of morphine it is considered not to have a high abuse potential and therefore not controlled by the UN. Countries are therefore left to come up with regulations that guide its use. The United Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2019 declined to include Tramadol in the list of its prohibited substances arguing that such a measure would hurt millions in developing countries who genuinely need the drug.  

As addictions within the IDP camps and outside reach fever pitch and users go to any extreme to access the drug, peddlers are finding sophisticated ways to beat the system and reap from a nefarious trade that has seeped into the pores of a nation. The law enforcers have stepped up checks and crackdown on illegal imports and local chemists distributing the drug without prescription. But somehow the drug finds its way to users, wasting away an entire generation.

Article written by:
Bildschirmfoto-2014-10-08-um-19.29.13
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
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Nigeria
Tramadol is an opiod painkiller used to treat mild to severe headaches and is preferred by patients with cancer or those after surgery to nurse chronic pain.
Life becomes unbearable with dwindling food rations, depression after losing loved ones to the jihadist group and the desperation to numb this pain.
The fighters who manage to flee from Boko Haram end up in IDP camps and have been known to introduce the drug there.