It is worrisome that the sale of illicit drugs has continued unabated in spite of the government’s efforts to check the menace across the country. Recently, large consignments of tramadol worth N200 billion were seized at the Apapa port. It is sad that tramadol, a prescription painkiller used by patients suffering severe pain, has been converted into an opiate drug by many Nigerian youths. The drug, which normally comes in approved threshold of 50 to 100 milligrams, is imported from India.
More worrisome is the revelation that the tramadol in circulation in Nigeria is more dangerous than the common type. The Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Col. Muhammad Abdallah (retd), disclosed that the 581 million tramadol tablets seized by his agency at the Apapa, Lagos port between November 15 and 18 were of between 120 and 250 milligrams. In December last year, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) announced that it seized tramadol worth N198 billion in about 30 containers. Since 2017, the use of tramadol and codeine by Nigerian youths has assumed a frightening dimension.
Following the abuse of codeine by Nigerian youths, the Federal Government last year banned the importation of codeine. The NAFDAC and Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria (PCN) were tasked to monitor its importation as well as the circulation of other popular drugs to ensure that they were not abused. To enforce the ban on tramadol and codeine, the House of Representatives in May last year proposed a fine of N2 million and a two-year jail term for corporate offenders and N500, 000 fine and two years imprisonment or both on conviction for individual offenders. And if the offender is a corporate body, all the directors, managers, partners and trustees would be guilty of an offence and would be punished as if they had committed the offence themselves, according to the lawmakers.
It will be recalled that between January and December, 2015, 1,044 patients were admitted for treatment in the 11 treatment centres of the Nigeria Epidemiological Network of Drug Use (NENDU) reporting system. Not less than 71 per cent of drug users now have tramadol as their preferred brand. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has also expressed concern on the circulation of tramadol in Nigeria and other parts of West and Central Africa. The body noted in December that countries in the axis, notably Nigeria, face “disruptive and destabilising” new trends regarding drug trafficking, drug use and other crimes.
Executive Director of UNODC, Mr Yury Fedotov, revealed that the UNODC’s 2018 World Drug Report showed that West and Central Africa, along with North African countries, accounted for 87 per cent of pharmaceutical opioids seized globally. He noted that this is largely due to rising use of tramadol, an opioid painkiller that is widely trafficked for non-medical use in the region.
Indeed, many experts believe that the growing insecurity in the country is being fuelled by the abuse of drugs like tramadol. A BBC investigation in the North East discovered a thriving market for tramadol and codeine in areas being controlled by Boko Haram insurgents. Most criminals arrested by the security agencies have admitted using tramadol before operations. Sometime last year, a kidnapper reportedly slept off in his victim’s house after an overdose of tramadol. Experts in mental health have also stated that abuse of drugs can lead to mental disorder.
Government should wage a relentless war against drug abuse and consumption of illicit drugs. Let NAFDAC and other related agencies rise to the challenge and check the sale of killer drugs across the country. While regular public enlightenment on the effects of consuming killer drugs must be strengthened, those responsible for importing such drugs into the country must be apprehended and prosecuted. Anyone found guilty must be punished.