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Tramadol control measures and supply for health-care services: findings from Ghana and other West African countries

Maria-Goretti Ane (The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), Accra, Ghana)

Drugs, Habits and Social Policy

ISSN: 2752-6739

Article publication date: 30 August 2023

Issue publication date: 28 November 2023




This paper aims to explore the role of tramadol in pain management and the impact of regulatory measures on supply and medical access in Ghana and other African countries.


The study adopted an exploratory design and qualitative methods to explore the perspectives of different actors, including officials of regulatory agencies, law enforcement agents, health-care providers and non-medical tramadol users. Data were collected through individual and group interviews, and transcripts were subjected to thematic analysis.


Findings show that tramadol fills a critical gap in treating pain across Ghana in areas with an acute shortage of opioid analgesics due to scheduling-related barriers. This was partly due to porous borders allowing for an influx of tramadol into the countries. The study further found that most tramadol purchases in Ghana and other West African countries were made from market traders rather than from health-care settings and were mainly generic medicines categorised as “substandard/spurious/falsely-labelled/falsified/counterfeit medical products” within the World Health Organization standards.

Research limitations/implications

Although the findings are instructive, there were some limitations worth noting. The study encountered several limitations, especially with the non-medical users, because the environment is highly criminalised, People who use drugs were unwilling to avail themselves for fear of law enforcement officers’ harassment. Obtaining ethical clearance had its own bureaucracy – challenges that delayed the study time frame.

Practical implications

Placing tramadol under the list of internationally controlled substances would create barriers to access to effective pain medications, particularly by the poor, and encourage victimisation of users by law enforcement authorities.


The study is based on empirical research on tramadol use and regulation in African countries, contributing to knowledge in an under-researched subject area on the continent. The comparative approach further adds value to the research.



All participants, interviewed are hereby acknowledged for every information provided during this study.

Funding: Research in West Africa was financially supported by the pharmaceutical company Grünenthal Gmbh.


Ane, M.-G. (2023), "Tramadol control measures and supply for health-care services: findings from Ghana and other West African countries", Drugs, Habits and Social Policy, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 259-269.



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