West Africa’s Opioid Crisis | People and Power2 min read

West Africa's Opioid Crisis


West Africa is battling an opioid abuse crisis. Medicines such as tramadol legally prescribed by doctors for pain relief are taken in life-threatening doses by millions in search for fix or relief from poverty and lack of opportunity. This post reflects on Nigeria to investigate how the drug is smuggled, traded and abused. The widespread corruption that follows this illicit traffic and the appalling health consequences for those in its grip. Lagos Nigeria is Africa’s largest city in a country with the biggest population on the continent over 200 million people. The city is overcrowded polluted and poverty-stricken and adding to its woes it’s suffering its own wide-scale and growing opioid addiction epidemic. Tramadol a life-saving opioid painkiller is being abused on a massive scale by all sectors of society. Tramadol less regulated than other opioid painkillers like oxycodone, a drug which has been implicated in more than 400,000 deaths in the US since 2000. Although tramadol is less dangerous than oxycodone, it’s no less addictive according to a new study by the Mayo Clinic a prestigious US Medical Center. The epidemic isn’t just confined to Lagos, it’s infected the entire country.

In 2018, the United Nations office on drugs and crime UNODC released the results of Nigeria’s first-ever illicit drug use survey and what was found was of grave concern. When talking about the non-medical use of tramadol there’s roughly almost 5 million users over the past 12 months in Nigeria and the tendency appears to be rising. Poverty, unemployment, general desperation of people and their living situations is one of the drivers. A lot of people seem to be using it associated with hard manual labor and with sex work.

Legally produced tramadol or with the legal dosage has around fifty or hundred milligrams per tab that is being used widely for pain therapy. It is really for a large part of the population the only pain medication often available. When talking about abuse grade, we’re talking about dosages that are significantly over that 100 milligram. Where does this abuse trend of Tramadol come from? Tramadol that is been produced both legally as well as that which is produced specifically for the non-medical use is being produced in India either officially or in clandestine laboratories. It is reaching Nigeria primarily by sea and entering through the two major ports of Lagos as well as through Port Harcourt. So once tramadol arrives at the Nigerian Ports how does it get so widely distributed across the country?

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