“What else can we do? We just want to get out of the world.”
When Mustafa Kolo, 23, takes the bright red pills he feels like he can push a tree. It’s like his body isn’t his. They obliterate the negative thoughts.
“When I take it, I forget everything,” he says.
It’s 10:00, Mr Kolo and his friend Modu Mohamed are with their boss, the commander of a vigilante unit set up to protect the city of Maiduguri from Boko Haram.
The young recruits are clearly uncomfortable.
‘People have lost everything’
“How many did you take today?” I asked them.
“Today? None,” came the reply.
Mr Kolo’s eyes are dark and bloody red, he slurs slightly as he talks. Mr Mohamed is listless and distracted. His head is hanging between his bony shoulders.
It’s obvious they’re lying. The commander steps in and urges them to tell the truth.
“I used to take three to four when I first began taking it. But now I have reduced it to one or half,” Mr Kolo says, unwilling to go further.
In this troubled town, thousands of people are addicted to Tramadol – the vigilante fighters, those displaced by the war and even the militants themselves.
The cheap opioid painkiller is meant to be used to treat moderate to acute pain. But, like most opioids, it is addictive – although just how addictive is a matter for debate.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says Tramadol is generally thought to have a “low potential for dependence relative to morphine”.
But the epidemic of addiction erupting across West Africa could yet disprove that.
“The problem is really huge,” says Marcus Ayuba, head of Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in Borno state, bowing his head sadly.
“It’s really huge.”
Mr Ayuba runs a drug treatment centre in Maiduguri, the state capital where, by his own estimate, one in three young people are addicted to the drug – an epidemic which, he believes, can be traced back to a decade of war. …
(Commoner Call photo by Mark L. Taylor, 2018. open source and free to use for non-derivative use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )