Tramadol Becomes New Dope for Hundreds of Liberian Youth


Report by Edwin G. Genoway, [email protected]

Monrovia – Substance abusers in Liberia are now switching from cocaine, Italian white, Marijuana and other narcotics to overdose of a medical prescription, Tramadol, posing a serious social problem in the country.

Tramadol is the generic name for a prescription pain reliever sold under the brand names Ultram, Conzip, Rybix ODT, and Ultram ER.

It is widely considered safe and has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Authority (FDA).

However, there have been many reports of abuse, because the drug can have opioid-like effects, giving users a narcotic “high.”

Doctors prescribe tramadol to treat moderate to severe pain in adults. The drug comes as a tablet, and as an extended-release tablet or capsule to treat around-the-clock pain.

Due to the narcotic feeling the drug gives, users feel comfortable abusing the drug than the cocaine and marijuana since they all have similar reactions.

Same as Marijuana, Cocaine

In Liberia, some of the abusers of the drug claim they have made the switch because of the frequent raid by the Liberia drugs enforcement agency on various ghettos across Monrovia and its environs.

Junior Morris, 21, sees tramadol as a normal tablet like any pharmaceutical drug being sold on the market. For him, the drug serves the same purpose as marijuana and cocaine.

“The tramadol can make me high; it can make me brave to do things that a normal person cannot do. It can make me numb and I can’t feel when somebody even stabs me with a knife,” he explained.

Medical experts say the side effects of the drug include, sleepiness, vomiting, itching, sweating, feeling agitated, nervous, or high, indigestion, dry mouth, diarrhea, tremor, and loss of appetite amongst others.

Darius Johnson, 28, has been abusing the drug for several months now. He’s also an alcoholic, who relies on the drug to appease his addiction.

“It can make me brave and when I am doing things I cannot even think who is near me; it makes me feel good but the only thing I don’t like about it is that it makes my mouth dry that I cannot even have time for food, only drinking business I can be thinking about,” Johnson said.

According to medical advice, the use of alcohol while taking tramadol increases the risk of dangerous side effects, but abusers are showing care less.

“For me I love to take tramadol because it can make me sleep and it can also give me strength to have good sex when I drink my stout over it, I can feel very high when I take it,” said Romeo Harris.

4G, 2G Effects

Several users told FPA they take the drug in different quantities – some said they take what they can afford.

“Whenever you hear any of my friends saying they are in 4G or 2G it means they have taken four or two tramadol tablets to get high. For me, I can take up to six per day,” says James Momolu.

A tablet is sold for L$50 and can be found in drug stores, pharmacy and with peddlers along the streets.

Drugs smuggle illegally Through Guinea Borders

David Sumo, former Managing Director of the Liberia Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Authority, alleged that the drugs mostly sold on the black market are smuggled into the country through the borders with the Republic of Guinea.

He said the regulatory body does not have the resources and manpower to curb the frequent smuggling while calling on the government to institute measure to curtail the problem.

“I think we need to ban these products that are harmful to our people, or they need to be brought in by permit. Anyone bringing in drugs needs to show permit and we need to address the health issues our country is faced with now,” he stressed.

Sumo, a Pharmacist, said the influx of the drug is not only a problem for Liberia but the entire sub-region.

“We are aware of this drug being misused in the sub-region including Nigeria and Ghana. For it to be dominating the Liberian market and being misused by mainly our young people is worrisome,” he noted.

He, however, blamed customs officers at border points for not asking people for permits before bringing drugs like tramadol into the country.

“The custom officers at the border points are not only supposed to be collecting taxes or imposing taxes on goods entering the country, they are supposed to be requesting permit from those importing the drug,” he stated.

LRA Refutes Claims

But the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) has disagreed with Sumo’s assertion about custom officers.

D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh, LRA Manager for Communications, Media & Public Affairs, in a response noted that customs officers do not levy taxes on import or export, rather taxes are levied by law and customs officers only enforce the law.

“Also, kindly be informed that at all borders, Customs officers are not the only border agency enforcing these laws. All border agencies including but not limited to the LIS, LDEA, LNP, MOD, LRA and others, are mandated by law to scrupulously enforce laws that created them. One of such border agency is the MOH,” he said.

He noted that clearance of all pharmaceutical products must meet the approval of the Ministry of Health (MOH), saying, “Customs is in no way contributing to the problem of proliferation of drugs on the market only because it wants to collect taxes,” he said.

He noted that once pharmaceutical products are not approved, Customs does not process importation of such drugs.

He said customs only process pharmaceutical products that are approved by the relevant authority, except otherwise smuggled, a challenge the LRA and all border agencies are confronting.

Meanwhile, Sumo is also concerned about the abuse of several other pharmaceutical drugs.

“There are other drugs that people misuse as well: drugs like Phenobarbital, Diazepam and codeine in cough syrups are normally being abused by drug users, many people take it with alcohol and do things out of the way. If you look around here today and hear about accidents, people stabbing their friends, and other wicked acts, it is all because of the misuse of these drugs,” he said.

Clergy Man Expressed Concern

Recently, the President of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), Bishop Kortu K. Brown described the fight against illicit drugs as a national emergency.

“This issue of fighting against illicit drugs is a national emergency that needs the attention of every Liberian and not government alone, the church, civil society, young and old including officials of government need to get involved in the process of fighting this nightmare,” he said

Bishop Brown, also General Overseer of the New Water in the Desert Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Brewerville, said he foresees a bleak feature for Liberia if the fight against narcotic drugs is not given priority.

“If you check in the street today you will find out young people taking in drugs and these drugs are being brought in by all kinds of people. We need to fight against this act before our children are damaged,” he noted.

The religious cleric stressed the need for every citizen to give huge support to paramilitary institutions like the Drugs Enforcement Agency and the Liberia National Police as well as other civil society working groups that are fronting this fight.

“If the citizens themselves cannot fight this act, we urged that they give their fullest support to the relevant authorities responsible to fight drugs to make Liberia at least a drug-free country and avoid our young people getting addicted,” he said.