Insight

Influence of drug smugglers and effect of Tramadol on Nigerian youths

About 70 per cent of Nigerian youth population have been ravaged by illicit drugs as Chinese, Indian and Pakistani smugglers continue to flood the nation’s ports with Tramadol despite the ban by the Federal Government since 2018. BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports

FG’s action against illicit drug

Despite the Federal Government’s struggle to control the illicit shipment of tramadol into the country since 2017, Nigerian youths are still at the mercy of drug cartels from India, Pakistan and other countries. Tramadol which is usually a prescription drug for patients suffering severe pain has become an issue of interest to the government and general public because of incidences of abuse. For instance, statistics by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), has revealed that more than 29.4 million Nigerians aged between 15 and 64 years abuse tramadol and other dangerous drugs. It was learnt that one quarter of the 70 per cent of the youths, who indulge in the dangerous drugs are female. The Anambra State Commandant of NDLEA, Mrs. Florence Ezeonye, while speaking at a ceremony to mark 2022 United Nations international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking in Awka, explained that the health survey of 2018 captured that 14.4per cent of the country’s drug use prevalence was almost three times the global average of 5.6per cent. She noted: “What is more disturbing is that the drug abuse cuts across all ages, gender, socio-economic status and regions. Increase in violent crimes, such as kidnapping, armed banditry, rape, arson, child and human trafficking, terrorism among others.”

Increasing influx of drug despite ban

Between January and November 2018, some container load of tramadol valued at over N210 billion were imported by smugglers into the country mostly from India. This year, in less than three months – April and June, 2022, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) seized 11 billion dosage of tramadol at Lagos Port and Murtala Mohammed International Airport. Findings revealed that Indian and Pakistan cartels are using both sea and airport to traffic the banned drug into the country. According to Customs Area Controller of the Apapa Command, Comptroller Yusuf Ibrahim Malanta, N6bn worth of tramadol seized at Lagos Port Complex were concealed carefully with towels, but were uncovered by officers who deployed forensic manifest management system. Yusuf said that the seizure concealed in a 20-foot container and packed in 150 cartons were from Pakistan. He noted that 1x 20feet container marked No. PCIU 0183241 laden with eighty-one (81) cartons of 250mg and sixty-nine (69) cartons of 225mg of tramadol tablets (Each carton contains 72 rolls, each roll contains 10 packs, each pack contains 10 sachets, and each sachet contains 10 tablets) totaling 150 cartons of tramadol tablets had been handed over to the NDLEA’s Commander of Narcotics, Ameh Inalegwu, Apapa Special Area Command for further agency action. According to him, one suspect who was arrested in connection with the seizure was also handed over to NDLEA for further interrogation and investigation. He said: “The fight against illicit drug abuse and trafficking is everyone’s business and the Nigeria Customs Service is all out to support the NDLEA in combating this ugly menace decisively. We have just started; we would make sure that all these illicit drugs have no place in Apapa command. “The drugs were concealed with towels, and the true content of the container was not declared. However, the customs deployed what is called the ‘Forensic Manifest Management System’ to bring out the contents of the container.” Inalegwu said: “The legally accepted milligram for tramadol is 50mg, but here we have five of that in one, under the influence of this drug, everybody is vulnerable. A carton of tramadol is not less than a million, while the entire drug is worth more than N6billion.’’

In April 2018, 9.5 million tablets of tramadol and exol 5 worth over N5bn were also seized at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and Edo State by the NCS and NDLEA. Of the figure, 214 cartons of tramadol 225 under 10 different brand names, which translates to 9, 219, 400 tablets weighing 6, 384.5kg, with an estimated street value of N4. 6 billion were transferred alongside 85 cartons of dried Khat leaves with a total weight of 1, 327.35kg by the Nigerian Customs to the MMIA Command of NDLEA as a symbol of the synergy between the two law enforcement agencies. The drug which was popularly referred to as TM, TD or tramo among youths and some elderly people has become a serious problem in the country because of its abuse. Reported incidence of addiction,youth vandalism, accidents, armed robbery and violence have been linked to the influence of unapproved intake of tramadol by the perpetrators. It was learnt that while some labourintensive workers take it to boost energy, some people, especially youths indulged in it to enhance sex and staying alert for long hours.

How students use the drug

For instance, a student in one of the private high schools, simply identified as Esther, who does not want her surname mentioned told our correspondent in Lagos that the drug was common among her classmates in the school. She explained that students were using the drug to read, especially during their midterm and terminal examinations. Esther, who did not see anything wrong in taking the drug noted that students mix the drug with soft drink for quick absorption, explaining that her colleagues use tramadol to stimulate their senses. She said that the users could stay awake for several hours without stress when reading or doing physical exercise.

A medical view

However, a retired nurse and chemist operator, Mrs Funke Awe said that the drug was in different categories and that the demand was still on the increase, despite its ban by the government. She listed the categories as 200 miligrammes (ml), 100miligrammes and 500miligrammes. Awe explained that the 200 ml was meant for people who were suffering from infirmity of minds and those at the rehabilitation centres, while the 100ml and 50ml was being applied for hypertensive patients to enable them sleep. However, she noted that the drug was capable of destroying some parts of the body when taken without ailments. Awe explained: “This is why some people behave irrationally today on the street. Some of them end up in a psychiatric hospital because of the abuse. “Some youths use the drug to influence their state of minds, while others buy it to perpetrate evil or boost their sexual capability.”

Also, a pharmacist in Lagos, Mrs. Morenike Hassan, explained that the medicinal benefits of tramadol could become harmful when not taken as prescribed by the physicians. She noted that tramadol travels between the nerves and brain to render havoc to the body when taken in excess. According to her, the latest abuse of tramadol is its mixture with energy drinks, alcoholic beverages and marijuana. Hassan explained that combination of tramadol with other drugs could lead to fatal side effects. She noted that combining alcohol and tramadol capsules may slow down brain activity and function which could finally lead to confusion, loss of consciousness, brain damage, respiratory depression, river disease, renal dysfunction, increase depression and suicidal tendencies.

She listed other side effects to include sweating, shallow breathing, weight loss, difficult in urinating, slow heartbeat, heart seizure, light-headed feeling, inordinate demand of sex among others. Hassan noted: “It can lead to seizure of heart, especially the old people using it to boost sex.

This is why you hear of men die on top of women during sex.” The pharmacist explained that the cheap price of the drug had made things worse as people could afford to buy it off the counter. Also, Mrs Jumoke Ayodele, a senior nursing officer in Lagos explained that tramadol, as a pain killer drug was being used to manage severe levels of pains.

She said: “They are drugs prescribed only by medical doctors for some specific categories of patients. Self-medication of such drugs can lead to overdose and potential death.” According to her, the drug is an opioid pain medication used in treating moderate or severe pain and is believed to be substantially addictive. However, she said that its adverse effect when abused could lead to irregular heartbeat, loss of memory, pain in the arms or heels. Ayodele stressed that students formed sizeable percentage of consumers of the drug because it was easy to access in some pharmaceutical shops or chemists.

In addition, she added that opioids were the main ingredient used in the production of tramadol, and they act as receptors to produce morphine -like effects. The nurse said that the abuse was rampant in some urban and rural communities. Echoing her, a chemist operator at Abesan in Lagos, Mr. Stephen Akoji, explained that the demand for the drug was too high despite the ban five years ago. According to him, the drug was no longer sold during working hours because of arrest by the officials of National Law Drug Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Akoji stressed that most of his customers were between youth age 14 and 28 years. Also, he noted that the drug was widely demanded by young women to boost their libido when taken with soft drinks or alcohol.

Customs Effort at Stem the Influx

On the influx of the drug into Nigerian market from India and China, Nigeria Custom Service (NCS), National Law Drug Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had sieved N210bn of tramadol from both land borders, sea and air ports. Concerned with the spate of smuggling, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with India’s Central Board of Indirect Taxes Excise and Customs (CBIC) to curb the influx of the illicit drugs into the country.

The Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), said in Lagos that efforts had been made to meet with the Indian envoy to Nigeria over illegal pharmaceutical imports. It was learnt that the agreement would compel CBIC to transmit all imports coming to port to NCS before the arrival of the consignments. For over 10 months, no fewer than 180 containers which came into the country illegally had been confiscated by NCS. In November 2018 alone, 76 containers of tramadol were seized.

It was gathered that while Customs seized 53 containers valued at N10.44billion at Lagos and Tincan Island ports, NDLEA also impounded 23 containers of 581million tablets of the same drug at Lagos Port and Tincan Island Port respectively, all in a month. The Comptroller General said that the trend of illicit drug importation into the country had become a source of concern to Nigeria Customs Service. Ali said: “We are talking with the Ambassador of India. We are talking about fast tracking the MoU for the Customs mutual agreement.

The MoU will enable us to have timely information on all export from India to Nigeria and vice versa. Once the agreement is signed, it will become mandatory on the Customs administration of India to upload all information of the export that is meant for Nigeria.” He stressed that NCS could not do anything now, saying that the service relied on intelligence to track down some contraband. Ali explained that three suspects, including a Customs officer, who cleared the containers had been arrested for further investigation. He added that the smugglers offered NCS officials N150m to ensure that one of the containers was released to them. The Customs Comptroller General noted that it was annoying to note that there were Nigerians, who were ready to make money at the expense of human lives by bringing in such quantity of drugs that had grave consequences on health and national security.

He said: “We are all aware of the dangers that the deliberate non-compliance to import and export procedures pose to our nation, as importers bring in all manner of items which put the security and health of the nation at great risk. Terrorists, kidnappers and other criminal elements get hold of these uncustoms goods such as controlled drugs to perpetrate their heinous activities.

“It is in line with the determination to fight this ugly trend that the Apapa Command of the Service intercepted 40by40 feet containers, mostly from India, laden with tramadol and other pharmaceutical products with a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N7.31billion. “In their criminal desperation, importers of this items offered bribes to the tune of N150m to our officers to effect the release of just one container with promises of even bigger sums to follow in the event that, their first attempt succeeds.” Ali explained that the suspects induced officers at Apapa Command with $274,000, while officials at the Federal Operation Unit (FOU), Zone A, Ikeja were offered $138,000. Since the beginning of the year, New Telegraph gathered that tramadol were falsely declared by importers and smuggled from India and other Asian countries into the country.

In May 2018, no fewer than 5,066 cartons of Tramadol Hydrochloride (225 milligrammes) with duty paid value of N242.68million imported from India, China and some other Asian were seized from smugglers. Similarly in February 2018, the Apapa Area Command of the service impounded four 40-feet containers loaded with prohibited pharmaceutical products with duty paid value of over N110m. Items in the containers include: 936 cartons of Tramadol Hydrochoride tablet (225MG) and 56 cartons of Collstop Chlorpheniramine Maleate Capsules (4MG) in a container marked MRSU 3637149. Another container with registration number MRKU 6196764 was stacked with 368 cartons of tramadol capsules BP (120MG), 192 cartons of tramadol capsules (250mg) and 160 cartons of Dobumol Anagestic. Also, container No, MRSU 3516384 contained 554 cartons of tramadol capsules BP (120mg), 176 cartons of Col-cap, while the forth container No MRKU 6058282 contained 200 cartons of tramadol (225mg), 330 cartons of Ibramol, 198 cartons Col-Caps (4mg) and 453 cartons of Rally Extral (50mg). Just last month, NDLEA seized 581 million tablets of Tramaldol.

The drug, which weighed 118 metric tons were discovered among the suspected 62 containers positioned for search at the seaport since November 15, 2018. According to the agency’s Principal Staff Officer, Public Affairs, Jonah Achema, said that the suspected containers, all originating from India have been on the watch-list of NDLEA since November 2017 and have just been positioned for search by Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).

He added that the drugs were imported from India with false documents in the name of an unregistered company. According to him, on the first day of the search, the agency discovered 340 million tablets of tramadol from 12 containers. He stressed that the tablets which were in various dosages ranging from 120 to 250 milligrams were above the permissible threshold of 50 and 100 milligrams. Already, NAFDAC said it had concluded plans to destroy tramadol consignment valued at N198 billion which it impounded recently.

 

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