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Inside Abuja’s booming Tramadol, Codeine black market – an investigation



By Edwina Ogiri


The massive patronage and consumption of Codeine, Tramadol and other opioids are usually by teenagers and young adults insatiably looking for “quick high”. Investigations by Persecondnews AJUMA EDWINA OGIRI, gives an insight into the booming illicit drug secret market in Wuse Zone 4, Abuja.


The growing number of idle young population in Nigeria has made illicit drug trafficking and consumption thrive unrestricted, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown. For over a decade, cough syrups containing codeine were bought and sold in pharmacies, chemists, and even on the streets by drug hawkers all over Nigeria. However, the high level of abuse and addiction was underestimated until BBC exposé; sweet codeine uncovered the level of addiction among Nigerians who consume it for non-medical reasons. This led to the ban on the production and importation of Codeine cough syrup by the Nigerian government.


Unfortunately, the ban on codeine and other abused opioids may not be enough to curb Nigeria’s addiction crisis. As a matter of fact, two years after the ban, it is still possible to purchase these drugs illegally as so many street drug merchants are seriously cashing in on the banned drugs, which has become more lucrative since the ban. One area where the sale of codeine cough syrups, as well as other illicit drugs such as tramadol and Rohypnol is thriving is Addis Ababa Crescent, Ladi Kwali street and Constantine Street, all in Zone 4, Wuse district, Abuja.


Open But Secret Market

These streets, especially Addis Ababa Crescent, are very popular for the trade of foreign currencies in Abuja. Addis Ababa Crescent is home to the largest number of Bureau de Change in Abuja, as they occupy 80 percent of shops in the plaza located on the street.

These streets are also a beehive of activities, filled with traders who sell products such as dried meat; popularly known as “Kilishi”, shredded meat; popularly known as “Dambun nama”, dates, dried fish, fruits, bread and Suya. Both sides of the road are usually very busy with vehicles, passers-by and traders struggling for space to pass.


What one may not know is that not everyone who drives into this streets, especially at night, is actually coming to buy or sell foreign currency, kilishi, dambun nama, fruits, dates or bread, some are coming to buy codeine cough syrup, Tramadol, Rohypnol or even marijuana popularly known as weed.


Another group of people on the street are drug vendors. They usually line up on both sides of the street with baskets filled with well-arranged steroids, opioids, antibiotics, analgesics and other prescription drugs. They prescribe and peddle almost all types of drugs. They sell other drugs openly, but their main stock-in-trade is contraband drugs which they sell discreetly. They don’t display the banned drugs with other drugs in their baskets. They sell those ones more and with ease at night. These people are the drivers of drug abuse.


Some of the drug peddlers especially those on Ladi Kwali street join genuine agents who sit by the roadside to solicit customers for bureau de change owners. They may appear to be soliciting customers for bureau de change owners, but are actually on the look-out for their customers, referrals from their customers or other potential customers. They know their customers and vice versa.


How They Operate

While going for this fact finding mission, Persecondnews reporter who posed as a buyer, went to Constantine street around 8 p.m. Though they are more comfortable selling these drugs at night, they are very vigilant and wary of new customers who may be a security operative posing as a buyer in order to arrest them. Even though security operatives raid the location regularly, it has not stopped them from selling. They cannot stop selling because they are making a fortune from the sales of these drugs.


The place was very busy at that time with different vehicles and passers-by trooping in and out of the street. The sellers could be seen on both sides of the road either close to a vehicle or standing with a passerby going about their usual transactions; drug selling. Money and drugs, ranging from those sold in bottles to those being sold in envelopes, were being exchanged.


When this reporter stopped in front of one of the vendors and beckoned on him, he was skeptical at first, but later came close to the vehicle after some minutes.

“Guy how you dey na? How market?” the reporter greeted.

“Market dey fine fine,” he replied.

“You get TM or Rochi?” the reporter asked.

“I get all. I go sell better for you. This one wey you hold Lacasera, you want cocktail too? I go do am for you sharp sharp,” he stated.

“How much you dey sell them and which slow you get?” the reporter asked again.

“TM na N400 per tablet, Rochi na N500 per tablet. Na only Tutolin, cofmix and Coflin I get. Tutolin na N3,000, Cofmix and Coflin na N2,000,” he replied.

When the reporter asked him why they are so expensive, he blamed the high cost on the ban, the suppliers as well as the border closure.

“You know say since them ban these drugs, the people wey dey supply us, increase the price because na smuggle them dey smuggle am. Now wey all the borders dey closed, the thing hard for them to get, so the drugs no dey easy for us to get too.

“E be like say you just dey come this country or E don tey wey you buy; this one wey you dey ask.” he explained.

The reporter noticed that during this transaction, he was uneasy and kept looking round to ensure he was safe, and became uncomfortable when the transaction was taking too long.

When the reporter settled for TM and Coflin, he brought out the TM from the back pocket of his trousers and quickly dispensed a tablet in a white envelope and handed over, while he quickly went to a corner and was back in seconds with a bottle of Coflin cough syrup.

The seller vanished immediately he was paid for his “services” to look for the next customer. The drugs have coded names which they use to know customers who are regular buyers. “TM” is the code name for Tramadol, while “Rochi” is for Rohypnol and “slow” stands for codeine. “Cocktail” is a mixture of codeine cough syrup and Rohypnol with Lacasera or Coca-Cola.

Findings by Persecondsnews also revealed that majority of their customers are construction site workers, especially bricklayers. They take Tramadol or Rohypnol for strength and to prevent them from getting tired quickly.


Effects Of Drug Abuse

A Consultant Neuropsychiatrist, and Head, Mental Health Department, University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Dr. Ifedilichukwu Uchendu, in an exclusive interview with Persecondnews disclosed that drug abuse has consequences on mental health.

“Talking about drug abuse, a lot of youths have tried to find solace by using different drugs to help alleviate or ameliorate some of the stressful situations they are passing through. This has consequences on their mental health. This is an area that needs urgent and critical intervention by not just the government, but by society at large.

“Codeine is a pain killer which when taken in excess, can cause Schizophrenia. It takes them away from reality as they begin to fantasize. They will feel numb and dizzy. However, the most abused drug is tramadol. Tramadol is an analgesic. One of the consequences of abusing tramadol is that it causes seizure; what we call epilepsy. By the time you start having seizure your cognitive functions will start going down. With time you will not be able to memorize, you won’t be able to read, focus or face your academics,” he explained.


Curbing The Trend

In curbing the trend, Dr. Uchendu advised on “demand reduction”. He called on the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), to try as much as possible to reduce the supply by going out to look out for those that supply them; the traffickers.


“We need to do what I call ‘demand reduction’. When you do what is called ‘demand reduction’, you reduce the demand for a particular product.


“Demand reduction also entails creating awareness, getting people to understand the consequences of using these drugs. If we do not tackle substance abuse on time, the future of Nigeria will take God’s grace, because these are the youths we are hoping to hand over the country to in future, but they are the ones that these drugs are actually affecting their mental state,” he further explained.


The Consultant Neuro-psychiatrist also advised parents on the need to watch their children as soon as they become teenagers.


“There is a need to know who your children’s friends are. You need to be very vigilant when they are home, know the things they watch and the things in their room.


“There are other things we have to look out for like when your child goes out and comes back and his or her eyes are red, there is problem. When your child goes out and comes back very late and goes straight to his room and sleeps off immediately and does not wake up until 12 noon the next day and that is a signal that there is a problem.


“I believe that parents need to have knowledge of these drugs and be able to start teaching their children so they can have knowledge of these drugs before they start associating with people. Try to teach them the dangers of these drugs and what negative effect they cause when taken; It ruins their future and like I use to tell people, ‘if you do not stop drugs, drug will stop you’,” he advised.


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