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Resolving friction in the tramadol economy in Nigeria

Ini Dele-Adedeji (University of Bristol, Bristol, UK)
Lala Ireland (University of Bristol, Bristol, UK)
Gernot Klantschnig (University of Bristol, Bristol, UK)

Drugs, Habits and Social Policy

ISSN: 2752-6739

Article publication date: 13 July 2023

Issue publication date: 28 November 2023




This paper aims to examine the friction that has surfaced since the adoption of policy measures restricting access to tramadol, a synthetic opioid, in Nigeria in 2018. Our analysis reveals how non-licensed pharmaceutical actors, who have played an integral part in the supply chain, have been criminalised for activities that have previously been sanctioned by the state. This criminalisation has given rise to friction between what is perceived as illegal by the state and what is acceptable for other actors in the tramadol economy.


The paper is based on more than 20 in-depth interviews with illicit actors and regulators in the tramadol economy in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial centre, and a review of key policy documents, media reports and popular cultural outputs on tramadol.


The paper highlights the effects of prohibitionist policies and the voices of criminalised actors to provide a contextual view of the Nigerian tramadol economy. Relying on the concepts of friction and quasilegality, we show how social relationships have become the main backbone of the illicit tramadol economy and how they enable participants to resolve the pervasive friction between illegality and social acceptability of tramadol.


This paper provides an inside understanding of the nuances of the rarely studied illicit trade in synthetic opioids and how restrictive policies that are seemingly not well thought through have created friction in the Nigerian context.



This study was supported by UK Research and Innovation Economic and Social Research Council ESRC – ES/S008578/2.


Dele-Adedeji, I., Ireland, L. and Klantschnig, G. (2023), "Resolving friction in the tramadol economy in Nigeria", Drugs, Habits and Social Policy, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 310-319.



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