Sahel and beyond: UNODC sounds the alarm on the increase in trafficking and consumption of tramadol and its security and health implications

Dakar, 11 December 2017 - The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warns the international community on the implications of non-medical use of tramadol, a synthetic opioid, on the economies and security of West Africa, notably in the Sahel region, and the Middle East and its broader linkages with the global fight against terrorism and transnational organized crime.

"The rise of tramadol consumption and trafficking in the region is serious, worrying, and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. We cannot let the situation get any further out of control", says UNODC Regional Representative in West and Central Africa, Mr. Pierre Lapaque.

According to the latest UNODC World Drug Report, yearly seizures of tramadol in Sub-Saharan Africa have risen from 300 kg to over 3 tons since 2013. According to further information obtained by UNODC, there are indications that tramadol, which is mainly produced in South Asia, is smuggled through the Gulf of Guinea by transnational organized crime networks, towards areas of the Sahel partially controlled by armed groups and terrorist organizations. At the end of September 2017, over 3,000,000 tablets were seized in Niger, packed in boxes bearing the United Nations logo. They were being transported in a pick-up truck driving on a route from Nigeria to Northern Mali.

UNODC Regional Representative in West and Central Africa, Mr. Pierre Lapaque.

The problem of abusive consumption and trafficking of tramadol plays a direct role in the destabilization of the region, as not only do groups smuggle tramadol across borders to generate revenues, they also use it for themselves. As stated by Mr. Lapaque, "tramadol is regularly found in the pockets of suspects arrested for terrorism in the Sahel, or who have committed suicidal attacks. This raises the question of who provides the tablets to fighters from Boko Haram and Al Qaeda, including young boys and girls, preparing to commit suicide bombings".

During a recent field mission to Gao, in Northern Mali, representatives of UNODC were able to interact with civil society actors, women's associations and government officials on the subject. During these exchanges, the concerns of UNODC were confirmed.

"We are confronted on a daily basis with the severe increase in tramadol consumption, especially by our children. I very often see girls and boys, barely older than my 10-year-old son, staggering in the street after taking or being given pills in their tea in order to helps reduce their feeling of hunger", shared a representative of a women's association, who wishes to remain anonymous.

UNODC, through its Sahel Programme, supports governmental institutions in the region to strengthen the capacities of law enforcement and justice officials to fight illicit trafficking and terrorism. UNODC also delivers support on border control (land, aerial and maritime borders), and on intelligence gathering and sharing.

In partnership with the G5 Sahel and other international partners, UNODC is providing a comprehensive response to strengthen the criminal justice chain in the region, as a contribution to the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS). In line with recent developments, UNODC will now support the G5 Sahel Joint Force, and continue to work closely with the MINUSMA in Mali.

Read the whole press release here.

For more information :

UNODC World Drug Report 2017

UNODC Sahel Programme

The G5 Sahel

UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel

Contribution of UNODC to the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel