Opioids in Africa: cheap and accessible

Jun 26, 2019 by

Cheap painkillers are the new drugs for the people. On the African continent, more and more people are becoming addicted and the illicit trade in pharmaceuticals is on the rise.

Heroin, cocaine, cannabis or alcohol – these are the kind of drugs most people think about on June 26, the United Nation’s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

Fewer people think of the legal opioids such as cough syrup or painkillers, which can induce effects similar to those of heroin. The non-medical, recreational use of such drugs has risen dramatically in the last 10 years worldwide. Around the African continent, the drugs are easily accessible and are often smuggled across borders without any medical control.

UN: ‘we’re in the midst of a crisis’

The office of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC) has called the current situation a “crisis situation.” “It’s a very serious situation,” Matthew Nice said in an interview with DW. Nice manages the so-called OPIOIDS Project at UNODOC. There are no exact figures, he says, but he and his colleagues recently alerted the UN to the severity of the situation in Africa, which especially affects countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and Togo. The drug that mostly comes into focus is the painkiller Tramadol. “There’s large scale trafficking of unregulated, illicitly manufactured sub-standard Tramadol throughout the region,” he says.

One of the few countries which has reliable data on the crisis is Egypt. A UN supported study together with Egypt’s health ministry found that around 100,000 people in the north African country are addicted to opioids, with half of them using Tramadol. It also found that two-thirds of patients being treated for addiction in Egypt’s state institutions are addicted to Tramadol.

For over 15 years, the UN has warned countries about the illegal, yet increasingly professional trade in pharmaceuticals. “The synthetic opioid problem, in terms of the amounts seized annually, is on the same scale as global heroin seizures,” says Nice.

Source: Opioids in Africa: cheap and accessible | Africa | DW | 26.06.2019

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