(By Gracia Obi)
A tablet of Tramadol helps me work non-stop all day, a labourer boasted, as he grabbed a bottle of malt drink and tossed an oxblood-coloured tablet into his mouth.
He was talking to a shop keeper responsible for selling to him the mysterious drug, along a street where the construction site he works at in Utako, Abuja, is located.
Little did he know that a reporter was listening and watching with a look of wonder and concern on his face. As far as I was concerned, no drug should be the source of that kind of energy. No man should work beyond his physical capacity, as a human being. This drug must be a slow but steady killer, I concluded.
I quickly accosted him, as he walked away. It was then I learnt a number of things that sent me scampering from my reporter equipment. This young man, who appeared to be in his twenties, had been depending on a tablet of Tramadol – one per day, for three months – to help him carry out the demanding task on the construction site where he works as a carpenter.
He narrated how he started with the green-coloured tablet and vomited all day, as long as food or water dared to enter his mouth.
His father had advised him about the drug but unfortunately it was half-baked. The advice was that he should not take an overdose of the lethal drug. But what about the long term effect – of the one tablet per day – that was sure to come?
After the discussion with the carpenter, my reporters’ pen knew no rest. Subsequent investigation proved my fears right. I quickly did some online research and placed a phone call to a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria.
It was then that the revelation of the dangers of the so-called ‘energy drug’ came pouring in like quicksand over a slowly drowning adult.
An Abuja based pharmacist, who craved anonymity said, “Tramadol is a drug that has been controlled (only pharmacies are allowed to sell it and that is after being presented with a doctor’s prescription) right from the very day it was manufactured”.
He added that, unlike codeine, which later became a controlled drug in Nigeria, as a result of the abuse, Tramadol was marked as a “no go area” from the onset because of the sensitive – or dangerous – nature of its content.
It is a pain killer, produced for those suffering from severe pain, like that of Arthritis. The drug could get used to one’s body and keep demanding larger doses as resistance builds up – while the body depends on it to function effectively – which inevitably leads to addiction. Unfortunately, some who take it after a doctor’s prescription continue to use it even when they are alright. This eventually becomes the beginning of their misery and perpetual enslavement to the unmerciful power of Tramadol, which leads to nausea, vomiting, sweating, itching and constipation.
Withdrawal symptoms – when a user realises the peril of its abuse – include uncontrollable nervous tremors, muscle contracture and trashing in bed.
So, where does this controlled drug called Tramadol sneak into the market from? I finally found myself at Utako Motor Park, where several sources pointed fingers in different directions. I could not believe it when I discovered that hawkers and traders had access to the controlled drug in Abuja.
I actually purchased a sachet of the drug, myself, and received directions to the wholesale dealers. One of the traders – a stall keeper, who was referred to as a doctor – was holding a syringe, as I approached. What was a woman in a motor park doing with a syringe?
She was totally uncooperative and denied having knowledge of such a drug. “But they call you doctor,” I almost blurted out. Well, I guess she may be – by motor park standard– because she had before her some bottles of herbal drugs and, of cause, owned a syringe.
That was not all. The irony was that one of the locations where this drug was supposedly sold was close to a police post.
Tramadol and its dealers sure have a sense of humour. The baton has now been passed to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control as well as the National Drug Law Enforcement Agents.