27 August 2018 - Non-medical use and trafficking of tramadol is becoming the main drug threat in West Africa. One sign of this is the rise in seizures of pharmaceutical opioids on the continent, driven by the worldwide popularity of tramadol, an opioid used to treat moderate and moderate-to-severe pain that is widely trafficked in the region. To find ways to address "The Crisis of Tramadol and Other Prescription Medicines in West Africa", UNODC organized a workshop last week in Abuja, Nigeria.
The event brought together senior representatives of law enforcement and health-care services, justice and law enforcement, as well as chiefs of the Inter-ministerial drug committees from Togo, Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Benin and Côte d'Ivoire. At the workshop, officials discussed topics such as public health, law enforcement, prevention and supply chain management.
Speaking on behalf of UNODC, Elisabeth Mattfeld, expert on drug dependency treatment, expressed her concern about the growing trend of using tramadol for non-medical purposes: "The rational use of controlled medicines - i.e. medicines controlled under the international drug treaties is essential to health. Drugs used to treat moderate to severe pain include non-opioids, opioids and adjuvant medicines, but the mainstay of chronic pain management is opioid therapy".
Tramadol is not yet under international control and is seen by recreational users as a way of boosting energy and improving mood. However, tramadol can produce physical dependence, with studies from the World Health Organization (WHO) showing that this dependence may already occur when used daily even after a few weeks.
According to the World Drug Report 2017, in countries in West Africa, North Africa and the Near and Middle East, tramadol is the main substance used by people reporting non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids.
This workshop was one of the first steps to consolidate future actions on addressing the "opioid crisis" and the non-medical use of prescription medicines in West Africa. It was held in collaboration with the Economic Community of West African States Commission (ECOWAS) and in the framework of the UNODC project entitled Support to ECOWAS Regional Action Plan on drug trafficking, organized crime and drug abuse in West Africa that is entirely funded by the European Union (Abuja Office).
UNODC is the United Nations Secretariat entity responsible for supporting Member States in their efforts against drugs and crime. Together, ongoing programmes in the areas of synthetic drugs monitoring, early warning and trend analysis, national forensic and counternarcotic capacity building, law enforcement operational work, and prevention and treatment provide a unique platform for contributing to the reduction of the non-medical use of synthetic opioids.