Standing in front of a class full of uppersixth students and asking if they know about drug abuse, they all screamed YES! Moving on we asked what drugs they knew…in unison, they screamed tramadol, tramol and all other derivatives.
We then went to form 3 class and followed same intro and to our amazement they too shouted tramadol. A little shocked we asked how they knew about tramadol. They said it is sold illegally in school by some guys.
In a recent survey informal survey carried out in a government high school in Douala with uppersixth science students showed that 4 (male) out of 109 students admitted to have used tramadol. They admitted they used it out of curiosity and were introduced by friends.
Tramadol (an opiate painkiller) is the latest (somewhat trending) drug abuse there is now in Cameroon. Cattle men use it on their cattle and manual workers use it to get through the day. Most use it to get high.
Why this sudden increase use of tramadol?
- Curiosity: It is the talk of the day and many just want to try it to see what it feels like
- Easily accessible: It is easily prescribed by doctors or you can literally walk into most pharmacies in Cameroon, with or without a prescription and you are served tramadol with little or no advise on when and how (and how long) to take it. For the few pharmacies that follow good dispensing practices, they refuse to sell. That however does not stop any one determined to have tramadol as we have road side medicine vendors who sell tramadol in doses as high as 250mg per tablet as compared to the usual 50mg found in pharmacies. With the rise of many generic versions, it is very cheap to buy and continue buying tramadol
- Misconception: The misconception is at many levels. First given it is prescribed by doctors and sold in pharmacies it means it is safe. Like every prescription drug, it is good when properly uses and harmful when abused. Also given it is not as strong as the other opiate painkillers like morphine and fentanyl, people seem to think it is not addictive.
How do you know you are abusing tramadol?
- Taking higher doses than recommended by your doctor
- Taking tramadol for a longer duration than prescribed
- Using some else’s prescription
- Exaggerating pain so you are prescribed tramadol
Health effects of using tramadol
Same effects as others in the opiate family
- Pain relief
- Euphoria (high) and calm
- Relaxed and happy for some
- Small pupils (pin point)
- Poor coordination (body movements)
- Tolerance (needing higher quantities of the drug to produce the same effect)
- Develop physical dependence and experience withdrawal effects when tramadol use is reduced or stopped.
- Insomnia (unable to sleep)
- Mood swings
- Pain in the muscles
- Increase risk of blood borne diseases like HIV for those who inject from the sharing of needles
- Psychological dependence characterized by intense cravings
- Addiction: compulsive drug seeking attitudes despite negative consequences of drug use
- Loss of interest in activities that were of interest before like watching or playing football with friends
- Spending a lot of time and money trying the get the drug
- Placing drug above other responsibilities like family or work
Consuming large amounts of tramadol at a go or even little for an overactive person could lead to an overdose. It is also very likely as most users combine tramadol use with other drugs like alcohol, sedatives and other pain killers to increase the high effect.
An overdose usually presents itself as:
- Abnormally low blood pressure
- Unconsciousness or extreme sleepiness (hard to wake person up)
- Respiratory distress (trouble breathing)
- Pinpoint pupils (very small)
- Weak muscles
- Cold and sweaty skin
- Unable to speak
- Death (extreme right?)
In case of an overdose, get to your health care provider as fast as you can. It is treated with naloxone which comes like an injection or nasal sprays.
What then can be done to reduce the abuse? Know the facts, make your decision. More on this will be in upcoming articles. Stay connected.
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About the author
Dr. Ekwoge Hilda is a trained pharmacist from Cameroon and Co-founder of HILPharma. When she is not busy creating content, she slings pills to pay the bills.