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Opioid Addiction Surging in Nigeria Among Boko Haram Jihadists

A classification change in Canada would subject the pain killer drug tramadol to tighter controls and enhanced reporting.
AFP/File LOIC VENANCE

Tramadol, the cheap opioid painkiller, is reportedly fueling widespread addiction in Nigeria and promoting the terrorist campaign at the hands of Boko Haram militants, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week.

BBC reported on Friday, “The World Health Organization (WHO) says Tramadol is generally thought to have a ‘low potential for dependence relative to morphine.’ But the epidemic of addiction erupting across West Africa could yet disprove that.”

The news outlet added:

After a BBC investigation in April showed the extent of codeine addiction in Nigeria, the production of codeine-based cough syrup was banned in Nigeria.

But codeine is not the only opioid scourge spreading across West Africa. Another painkiller, Tramadol, is fuelling widespread addiction – and as the BBC’s Stephanie Hegarty found out, it may even be fuelling the insurgency in the north-east.

Under the euphoric effects of opioids, it is easier for users of the deadly drug to feel strong, able to push a tree out of its roots, numb to the carnage around them, and eventually concerned only about their next fix.

Boko Haram commanders urge their fighters to take the drug. The U.S. military has determined that Latin American traffickers smuggle their contraband, mainly cocaine, through West Africa — Boko Haram turf — into Europe.

“When you are going for a military operation you will be given it to take. Otherwise, if you take it you will be killed,” a 21-year-old unnamed former Boko Haram member told BBC. “They told us when you take it you will be less afraid – you will be strong and courageous.”

“The problem is really huge,” Marcus Ayuba, the head of Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in Borno state, the birthplace of Boko Haram, told BBC. “It’s really huge.”

Ayuba pointed out that the mere thought of a Boko Haram jihadist “tanked up” on Tramadol before engaging in combat is terrifying.

Ayuba believes the Muslim ban on alcohol has played a rule in the widespread use of opioids.

“Mr Ayuba believes religion may have a part to play as well. Alcohol is forbidden in the majority Muslim communities of north-east Nigeria, but there is less of a taboo around prescription drugs,” noted BBC.

“When Mustafa Kolo, 23, takes the bright red pills he feels like he can push a tree. It’s like his body isn’t his. They obliterate the negative thoughts,” the British news outlet reported.

“When I take it, I forget everything,” he said, later adding, ”I used to take three to four when I first began taking it. But now I have reduced it to one or half.”

A significant portion of the population — including the vigilante fighters, those displaced by the war and even the militants themselves — is reportedly hooked on Tramadol.

“Nobody has the natural will to take someone’s life. Drugs are always there to give you the push,” Ayuba said. “Then there are the women who have escaped from Boko Haram and now find themselves addicted to drugs.”

In the United States, the ongoing deadly heroin crisis originated with users addicted to prescription pills, including Tramadol. The addiction then drove users to seek out the much cheaper heroin after the U.S government began to crack down on doctors doling out massive amounts of prescriptions for painkillers.

Drug treatment centers have been proliferating across Nigeria.

The African nation is a transit country for several drugs from Latin American and Afghanistan, all intended to spread across the world through the U.S. and Europe.

“People have lost everything,” said Ayuba. “They are young people who were basically farmers; they’ve lost their farms, their homes.”

Ayuba runs a treatment center himself.

In Nigeria, thousands of people are addicted to Tramadol – the vigilante fighters, those displaced by the war, and even the militants themselves.

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