The National Youth Authority (NYA), in collaboration with GHOne Television, has launched a national campaign to end tramadol abuse.
The Director General of the Ghana Health Services (GHS), Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, who performed the launch in Sunyani yesterday, warned that the country would experience a mental health crisis if the abuse of the drug was not checked.
Already, he said, the Mental Health Authority had estimated that more than four million Ghanaians were mentally ill, while mental health institutions had been complaining about the lack of resources to cater for patients.
The NYA collaborated with the television station to launch the campaign as part of the 2018 national celebration of International Youth Day (IYD) held in Sunyani, which focused on ending tramadol and tobacco abuse.
Dr Nsiah-Asare explained that tramadol was a pain relieving drug with approved dosage strengths of 50 and 100 milligrammes registered for use in the country by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA).
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Dr Nsiah-Asare, however, said unscrupulous importers were peddling the drug with a dosage strength of 250 milligrammes.
He pointed out that 250 milligrammes was more than twice the maximum dosage strength, leaving those who took them with the danger of addiction, which could lead to heart failure, respiratory problems, coma and death.
Dr Nsiah-Asare said the medical benefits of tramadol could quickly become harmful when it was not taken as prescribed, especially where it was taken for recreational purposes.
“Excess amount, regular use or overuse can cause side effects, many of which can be dangerous and may affect the brain in ways very similar to illegal or narcotic drugs,” he stated, adding that generally, tramadol should not be given to children younger than 16 years.
Dr Nsiah-Asare mentioned headache, dizziness, drowsiness, feelings of nervousness or anxiety, noisy breathing, a slow heart rate or weak pulse, infertility, missed menstrual periods, impotence, sexual problems and loss of interest in sex, as some of the side effects of tramadol abuse.
He warned that the combination of tramadol and alcohol or other drugs could cause threatening or even fatal side effects, explaining that both alcohol and tramadol were central nervous system depressants, and both were agents that slowed down brain activity and function.
Dr Nsiah-Asare said the mix-up could lead to confusion, loss of consciousness, brain damage, tramadol and drug dependence, liver and kidney diseases, respiratory depression, increased depression and suicidal tendencies.
“I want to draw your attention also to another increasing threat in Ghana; a current trend in tobacco smoking by water pipe popularly called Shisha,” he said, and explained that he was bringing that to the attention of the public so that they could be on the lookout for other similar problems.
Dr Nsiah-Asare suggested that heavy taxes must be placed on tramadol and tobacco products, as well as restrictions on their importation.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the NYA, Mr Emmanuel Sin-Nyet Asigri, disclosed that the authority had planned to establish a rehabilitation centre at Wassa Amenfi in the Western Region.
In addition, the NYA, he said, was searching for other locations to be used for the establishment of other rehabilitation centres and called on stakeholders to join the NYA, to work out an action plan to deal with tramadol abuse among young people in the country.
Dr Nsiah-Asare called on stakeholders such as the FDA and the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB) to act now to protect young people from getting addicted to the drug, saying “our youth with great potential will be laid waste”.
Mr Asigri for his part, expressed worry that tramadol abuse was prevalent among young people who wanted to work hard, noting that the tramadol menace was destroying the youth and turning the young men into “beasts of sex”.
He said the abuse of the drug was turning hardworking men into lazy men and angry frustrated youth into fearless fighters.
“The pain reliever is bringing our continent so much pain. And because the victims are largely young people of our society, most of these abusers are entering their graves faster,” Mr Asigri added.
He said stakeholders must determine what to do to tramadol importers and its unscrupulous agents and peddlers.
The Minister of Youth of Sports, Mr Isaac Asiamah in his remarks, pledged that his ministry would team up with related ministries and agencies to resolve the tramadol abuse among the youth.
The Brong Ahafo Regional Minister-designate, Mr Evans Opoku-Bobbie, called for an all-hands-on-deck approach in finding a solution to tramadol abuse, which he said, was gradually becoming a national catastrophe.