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Tramadol regulation, illegal markets and consumption practices: exploring frictions of drug control in Nigeria

Ediomo-Ubong Nelson (Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse, Uyo, Nigeria)
Ogochukwu Winifred Odeigah (Department of Psychology, Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Nigeria)
Emeka W. Dumbili (School of Sociology, College of Social Sciences and Law, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)

Drugs, Habits and Social Policy

ISSN: 2752-6739

Article publication date: 29 May 2023

Issue publication date: 28 November 2023




The purpose of this study is to understand the complex interplay between illicit opioids trade and consumption practices and state policies that aim to reduce their misuse.


The study adopted an exploratory design. Data were gathered through in-depth interviews with 31 commercially oriented drug dealers in Uyo, Nigeria. The framework approach was used in data analyses, while “friction” provided the interpretive lens.


Accounts revealed public concerns over the misuse of tramadol and other opioids among young people and the associated health and social harms. These concerns provided support for enforcement-based approaches to prescription opioids control, including police raids on pharmacy stores. These measures did not curtail opioids supply and consumption. Instead, they constrained access to essential medicines for pain management, encouraged illegal markets and fuelled law enforcement corruption in the form of police complicity in illegal tramadol trade.

Research limitations/implications

The findings reveal the frictions of drug control in Nigeria, wherein enforcement-based approaches gained traction through public concerns about opioids misuse but also faced resistance due to the persistence of non-medical use and illegal supply channels made possible by law enforcement complicity. These indicate a need to prioritize approaches that seek to reduce illegal supply and misuse of opioids while ensuring availability of these medications for health-care needs.


The study is unique in its focus on the creative tension that exists between state control measures and local opioids supply and consumption practices.



The authors are grateful to the participants of this research, and the reviewers for Drugs, Habits and Social Policy.


Nelson, E.-U., Odeigah, O.W. and Dumbili, E.W. (2023), "Tramadol regulation, illegal markets and consumption practices: exploring frictions of drug control in Nigeria", Drugs, Habits and Social Policy, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 296-309.



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