Tramadol abuse, the situation at Asafo
"My brother, do not bother yourself about these guys. Can't you see they are fast asleep? This is what they refer to as' Ne kon mu abu', a Twi phrase which literally means “they are fast asleep".
This was what a bar operator (name withheld) told the Daily Graphic reporter when he visited her spot at Asafo in Kumasi, the Ashanti Regional capital, and asked why most of the guests at the bar at the time, who were mostly youth, were drowsy.
The bar attendant, in a low tone, told the reporter that they were under the stimulus of tramadol, preferably called tramor, a pain killer which can be likened to paracetamol and other analgesics but has some characteristics of cocaine.
Some of its street names in Kumasi are 225, bomb, bullet, missile ‘red & white’ and ‘cross & die’.
According to the woman, anytime they visited the pub, all they requested were bottles of water or energy drinks, adding that “before you say jack they are dozing off.”
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She explained that the novice among them swallowed it with the aid of these energy drinks, while the 'big boys’ dropped them in alcoholic beverages for it to dilute; and then they slowly sip.
" Anytime you wake them up to go home and sleep, since they are already dozing off, they will tell you they are not asleep but rather meditating," she told the reporter.
According to the woman, who said she had been operating the drinking spot for the past decade, she became conscious of the drug barely two years ago when she picked an empty capsule of the drug while sweeping the premises.
"I even thought it was paracetamol, but when I picked and watched closely, I saw the inscription tramadol," she said.
Tramadol, according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia, is a pain relief medication used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain and must be strictly used under a medical professional’s prescription.
Once in the body, tramadol attaches itself to the brain’s pain receptors, ultimately locking the sensation of pain and decreasing the brain’s perception of pain.
It is a central nervous system depressant, which could slow down brain activity and function and could lead one into confusion, loss of consciousness, brain damage, respiratory depression, liver disease and renal dysfunction.
The drug is now gaining notoriety because cocaine addicts who were broke and could no longer buy their stuff now resort to the use of tramadol, since it can render a comparable service to the user at a low cost.
It is mostly peddled at drinking spots, Indian hemp (marijuana) ghettos, night clubs,as well as by mobile ‘Abokyi’ drug sellers.
The widespread abuse of Tramadol, especially in the Ashanti Region, last month compelled the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) to hold a crunch meeting at the regional directorate in Kumasi to sensitise the populace to the adverse consequences of the drug, as well as its attendant legal implications.
The team visited 32 senior high schools (SHSs) in the region as part of its awareness creation programme.
To ensure public safety, the authority undertook market surveillance at 84 shops, comprising 50 Over The Counter (OTC) shops and 34 pharmacy shops within the region.
Out of the 50 OTC’s, 21 of them stocked and sold tramadol even though the regulation governing their operations did not permit so.
Though the FDA has registered only 50mg and 100mg dosages, the Daily Graphic has gathered that there were 120mg and 225mg dosages on the market, which are suspected to be illegally smuggled into the country through neighbouring Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire.
An anxious Asafo mother told this reporter that her only child (a second-year male student at the Kumasi Technical University) has now fallen victim to the tramadol abuse.
According to her, she started noticing some weird changes in her son, after he entered the university and she realised that her son (name withheld) had started taking Tramadol.
“Now as soon as he closes from lectures, he goes home and the next thing, he sleeps. He sweats profusely in abnormal circumstances, sneezes frequently, scratches his body copiously and always wants to be left alone,” she explained.
She noted that her son who since infancy preferred heavy foods such as fufu, banku and konkonte, now favoured junk foods: meat pie and soft drink, cocoa tea and bread, tiger nut milk (Atadwe milk) and sobolo.
Auntie Ama, a single parent, explained that her suspicion was finally confirmed one day when she went through her son’s school bag while he was fast asleep and picked some tablets of tramadol, which she mistook for paracetamol.
She said the worst of all was that the child now stole from her at the least opportunity.
“My fabrics in my luggage, jewelleries, even foodstuffs end up missing in my kitchen,” she told the reporter, adding that his conduct was now adversely affecting his academic performance in school.
A sex worker who plies her trade at Krofrom in Kumasi, who only gave her name as Joy, told the Daily Graphic that but for tramadol, there was no way she could have endured the enormous pains she encountered considering the number of men she had to ‘service’ daily.
“Imagine sleeping with averagely 12 men every day, so do you think you can use your naked eyes to attend to these men of all sizes?” she soberly asked the reporter.
Asked whether she was not drowsy after taking the medication , Joy admitted that it was only the first time she took the drug that she felt drowsy, a situation she said made her ‘client’ make away with her two mobile phones and her GH¢ 400 (her daily sales).
“Now my body is used to the drug,” she gleefully lamented.
Joy, who preferred to be called ‘Lady Gaga’, said her colleagues (sex workers) introduced the drug to her when they realised that some men who came to them for sex and caused them pain were using the drug as an aphrodisiac, “so the ideal thing we did was to take some and counter their efforts”, adding that that was what they termed ‘cross & die’.
Barely a fortnight ago, six SHS boys were arrested for defiling a 19-year-old lady at Esereso in the Bosomtwi district. Police gathered that the suspected boys who took turns to have sex with the girl were under the influence of tramadol.
According to the victim (name withheld), who is currently receiving medical treatment at the Kumasi South Hospital (Agogo Hospital), the boys gave her an energy drink which is believed to have been laced with tramodol.
One of the boys is said to have bitten the girl a number of times when he realised he was not getting an orgasm after a long time.
The alleged perpetrators have since been detained and would soon be put before court.
Another incident was that of a 50-year-old man, popularly known at Asafo as ‘Boga’, who was found dead in the Subin drain, near Asafo in Kumasi, recently. According to residents, Boga who was well known at Asafo for his extreme intake of Tramadol usually after work sat on the shoulders of the drain for relaxation.
“Before we realised, Boga dosed off and fell into the Subin drain (about 20-feet deep), broke his neck and died on the spot,” Maame Adutwumaa, a nearby mobile money vendor, told the reporter.
Early this year, chiefs and elders of Nkokuo Buoho in the region issued a press statement on the abuse of tramor in their area, especially among SHS students.
The traditional leaders have, thus, assured the Ghana Police Service of their support in ensuring that those peddling illegal drugs within the community are named and shamed.