Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria have developed an addiction to the opioid Tramadol at refugee camps holding former Boko Haram captives who introduced others to the highly-addictive drug after being exposed to it by the jihadi group, Al Jazeera reported over the weekend.
Residents of the IDP camp on the outskirts of Nigeria’s Borno state capital of Maiduguri, in Madinatu, reportedly use the drug to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hunger, and other challenges they face after escaping the jihadi group. Madinatu is home to some 5,000 IDPs.
“I feel very empty without Tramadol,” Aliyu Yusuf, who had not heard of Tramadol until he arrived at an IDP camp in 2016, told Al Jazeera, referring to hunger.
“It is the only thing that makes me tough and takes away all my pain away,” he added.
Yusuf is reportedly one of “dozens of IDPs” in the Madinatu camp addicted to Tramadol.
“While it is mainly used as pain relief medicine, when taken at higher doses, it can produce the same high as heroin,” Al Jazeera explains. “Tramadol binds to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, leading to a sense of euphoria.”
Most addicts told the news outlet other IDP residents introduced them to the drug at the camp.
“They [Tramadol peddlers] gave the impression that it was a magic drug that will make whoever takes it very happy,” Hauwa Salihu, who has lived in the Madinatu cam since escaping a Boko Haram attack in 2015, added. “People began to rush it since then.”
“Nothing matters to me anymore whenever I take [Tramadol],” a 23-year-old identified only as Shettima added. “When fear comes, Tramadol takes it away.”
Tramadol reportedly remains the most abused drug in IDP camps across Nigeria, courtesy of Boko Haram.
Jibrin Bukkar, a counselor and social worker at Caprecon Development And Peace Initiative, an organization assisting victims of drug abuse and human trafficking in IDP camps in Nigeria, told Al Jazeera:
We’ve established a number of cases of bullying, intimidation and even sexual advances involving more than a dozen IDPs in Madinatu and Bulumkutu who regularly abuse Tramadol. Excessive use of the drug can sometimes lead to symptoms like agitation, nervousness, tension, and changes in mood which can trigger aggression.
Some addicts at the camps are already showing signs of depression linked to Tramadol abuse.
“Yes it keeps me calm most of the time, but it has taken away everything I have,” an IDP identified only as Maryam and who is trying to come off the drug, told Al Jazeera. “I spent all my money buying Tramadol.”
Boko Haram reportedly exposes some of its captives to the highly addictive narcotic.
Adamu Musa, a 19-year-old former Boko Haram prisoner who claims to have introduced Tramadol to the Madinatu camp, indicated that his “captors made sure everyone took high doses of Tramadol before embarking on any mission.”
“No fighter ever thought of going out without having a substance like Tramadol,” Musa told African Arguments in a different interview published in mid-March. “If you take Tramadol away, you make Boko Haram weak.”
Drug abuse among IDPs reportedly extends beyond the Madinatu camp in northeastern Nigeria.
Al Jazeera learned from Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) that “none of the camps in the [Borno] state capital is free from the nefarious drug activities.”
Borno is the birthplace of Boko Haram.
“The drug can easily be bought from local pharmacies for as little as 30 cents for a strip of 10 tablets, mostly in dosages as high as 225mg – more than two times what is legally allowed in some other countries,” Al Jazeera notes.
In December, the United Nations reported that nearly 90 percent of all pharmaceutical opioid (predominantly Tramadol) seizures across the world took place in Africa.
Nigeria’s neighbor Benin is the second largest destination for Indian Tramadol after the United States, the U.S. State Department said in 2016.