Tramadol Menace: NDLEA to the rescue

The seizure by National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, of 581 million tablets of tramadol in an ongoing search operation at Apapa Sea Port in Lagos came as cheering news to all Nigerians. This seizure came on the heels of a similar exercise late last year during which the Agency seized 160 million tablets of the Tramadol at the same Apapa Port. The Agency has since charged the clearing agent behind the shipment of the 160 million tablets of Tramadol to court. The Agency is also on the trail of those behind the shipment of the recent seizure.

This operational success by the Agency is a product of a painstaking intelligence drive. Following the Tramadol crisis in the country and the entire West African sub-region, the Agency has been gathering intelligence on the shipment of illicit Tramadol into the country.

The intelligence available to the Agency was passed to the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS in the spirit of inter-agency cooperation. Two of the suspected containers first arrived at the Apapa Port late last year, followed by another twelve (12) until a total of 62 of them later berthed. The Agency’s vigilance made it difficult for the importers to divert the deadly consignments.

On November 10, 2017, NCS positioned 12 of the containers out of which six of the containers were found to contain 160 million tablets of tramadol of 220 and 250 milligrams dosage. The remaining containers were not positioned for search until last week Wednesday November 14, 2018 when NCS positioned 23 of the containers from which a total of 581 million tablets of tramadol were seized. As at press time, 39 of the containers are still outstanding, with NDLEA having strong suspicion that several more tramadol tablets would be found from them.

The NDLEA’s crackdown on the importation of illicit Tramadol was as a result of the pervasive abuse of the drug by the populace. It was learnt that NDLEA had in 2017 reached out to National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC for an appropriate template for the suppression of the worrisome supply and abuse of Tramadol.

There was a consensus between the two drug control agencies that the only authorized oral dosage strengths for the market are 50 mg and 100 mg and that any higher dosage is not approved for use in Nigeria and should not be in circulation in the country.   This makes any Tramadol tablet in excess of 100 mg an illicit drug over which only NDLEA has the statutory mandate to seize. NDLEA also has the mandate to investigate and prosecute the offenders.

The Tramadol tablets discovered so far are purely illicit, in various dosages ranging from 120 to 250 milligrams are above the permissible threshold of 50 and 100 milligrams.   The drug consignments are with all the trappings of illicit drug trafficking. They were imported from India using false documents in the name of an unregistered company.

As the search continues, it is only hoped that inter-agency rivalry will not overshadow the need to bring this illicit drug criminals to book in the overall interest of the nation.