This article is part of our #FirstWord series to provide context on trending news.
On November 14, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) blocked 28 containers containing Tramadol worth ₦6.4 billion from coming into Nigeria.
In a statement issued by the Director General of NAFDAC, Professor Moji Adeyeye, the containers from India were discovered upon inspection in partnership with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) at the Apapa Port in Lagos.
What’s wrong with Tramadol?
Tramadol is an opioid pain drug that is used to treat moderate to severe pain. It however has the ability to produce euphoria or energy making it subject to abuse.
Tramadol, unlike other opioids, does not cause one to be drowsy, this has led to its use for recreational purposes. When taken in high doses it can cause diarrhoea, loss of appetite and nausea.
Nigeria has one of the highest number of tramadol users in the World. Youths especially cling to the drug because it heightens senses and pops energy levels.
“Available information has shown Nigeria as one of the countries in the world with highest use of Tramadol relative to our population. In Nigeria as in many African and middle East countries there are signs of expansion of the market for Tramadol.” - Moji Ayeye, DG NAFDAC
That Tramadol is relatively cheap compared to other painkillers makes its addiction easy. For example, a 10 tablet strip of 100mg Tramadol costs ₦100. And even though it is not supposed to be sold strictly on prescription by a doctor, a lot of pharmacists still sell it to anybody that walks in.
NAFDAC has had multiple cases of intercepting unregistered containers with tramadol. In February 2018, two trucks containing the opioid were seized. Similarly, in March 2018, 33 trucks laden with tramadol were intercepted by the agency just as it was exiting the Apapa port in Lagos.
Clearly, the country has a tramadol drug problem. Kano, Katsina, Plateau and Ekiti state have the highest cases of continuous drug abuse in the country.
What is being done about it?
In December 2017, Nigeria's Senate had a roundtable discussion on the drug problem in the North, the idea behind the meeting was to reform the country's response to substance abuse. In addressing the issue, 2 bills were proposed. The first bill, the Drug Control Bill, seeks to criminalise the diversion and distribution of controlled substances like tramadol without a license or prescription. It also restricts all drugs that have a high potential for abuse.
The second bill which is the Mental Health Bill recognises that psychosocial issues are key drivers for the abuse of cough syrup. It, therefore, seeks to ensure that there are standard facilities in every state to provide mental health and substance abuse services. Both bills are now receiving input from CSOs and MDAs, and according to the Senate will be introduced and fast-tracked.
Also, as a way of discouraging youths to shun the drugs, the Federal Ministry of Health is partnering with the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the Nigerian Football Association (NFF), celebrities, performing musicians and members of the actors guild of Nigeria to drive a national campaign against the abuse of drugs.
While it looks like the Federal Government is doing a lot to curb the abuse of drugs like tramadol, history has taught us that more often than not, as we’ve seen with the codeine menace, the process will be stalled.