29 July 2019 - The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Country Office for Nigeria and Regional Office for West Africa organized a meeting in Lagos on 24 and 25 July 2019 to discuss the findings of a study on tramadol and other pharmaceutical opioids trafficking in West Africa funded by the European Union (EU). The study will be published by the end of the year.
Trafficking of pharmaceutical opioids and their non-medical use has reached an alarming state in West Africa. Recalling the recent UNODC 2018 Report on Drug Use in Nigeria, the Country Representative, Oliver Stolpe noted in his opening remarks at the meeting that "by now, Nigerians living with a drug use disorder outnumbered, by far, people living with HIV and AIDS in the country." The availability of pain medication remains an issue in West African countries, and there is a need to strike a balance between restricting the non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids and ensuring their availability for the treatment of pain.
The data for the study titled "At the crossroads of licit and illicit drugs: tramadol and other pharmaceutical opioids trafficking in West Africa" was collected in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo between September 2018 and May 2019.
The meeting had representatives from Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Member States, counterparts from India, ECOWAS Commission, the EU, United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and technical experts from UNODC, CRIMJUST, European Union Capacity Building Mission (EUCAP - Niger), International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), World Health Organisation (WHO), Interpol and the UNODC's integrated response to the global opioid crisis - UNODC Opioid Strategy.
Key recommendations discussed during the dissemination workshop included the need for reliable data on trafficking and the non-medical use of tramadol to enable a correct assessment of the problem. The discussion also highlighted the need to strengthen law enforcement responses including intelligence gathering and analysis, interagency cooperation, and international cooperation. To this end, preceding this meeting a two-day tri-lateral case forum between Nigeria, Ghana and India on trafficking of precursor chemicals and tramadol as part of CRIMJUST and Nigeria Drugs Projects.
Further the discussion brought to the fore the need to harmonise the regulation of pharmaceuticals in the region and strengthen control on the supply chain without impeding access to medication within country settings, and to develop drug demand reduction strategies. The meeting heard how the change in the regulatory environment in India in 2018 has resulted in a significant reduction in illegally trafficked tramadol being imported into West Africa, and that there is a need to monitor the evolution of tramadol availability and if different pharmaceuticals or non-pharmaceutical opioids will fill the actual void.
Within the framework of the UNODC Opioid Strategy, the event also presented an opportunity for the Global Synthetics: Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting (SMART) Programme to present UNODC Laboratory and Scientific Section precursor field test kits and the manual on Clandestine Manufacture of Substances under International Control to representatives of the three countries (Ghana, Nigeria and India) who have been involved in joint operations to curb tramadol trafficking.