DUBAI // Parents are being urged to look out for signs that their teenagers are taking the drug tramadol, a cut-price killer that students are increasingly using to get high.
Tramadol is an analgesic used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain, and since 2011 it has been available only by prescription in the UAE.
“It’s a new drug which the youth, the new generation, are using in schools and universities and it is a big concern,” said Feryal Tawakul, the executive director of community affairs at Dubai Customs.
“The last two years’ statistics show an increase in seizures of tramadol. People become addicted very easily if they take it without a prescription and it harms all the organs in the body.
“Tramadol is a very cheap drug, each tablet cost Dh1.50 on the black market. So comparing this with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine, it has the same effect but is much cheaper.
”The telltale signs that parents should look out for include nervousness, difficulty swallowing, nausea and vomiting.“Lots of parents don’t know about tramadol,” added Ms Tawakul. “We didn’t hear about it, but the youth are all aware of it, this is what is scary. The dealers are targeting the youth, not the children and not the old people.
“As a community we need our youth’s brains, we need their energy, we need them to learn, to build this country at this age, not to be addicted to such drugs, which are really affecting the community in general.”
Dubai Customs has launched a campaign in partnership with the Dubai Health Authority to raise awareness of the threat posed by the drug.This follows the seizure in April at a warehouse in Jebel Ali of more than 90 million tramadol tablets with a street value of more than Dh1 billion. The pills had been smuggled into the country in four containers, and were intercepted after customs officers became suspicious.
“Imagine if the 90 million pills had been distributed in the community, more people would have become addicted,” added Ms Tawakul. “It’s a disaster if people misuse it.”
Non-medical use of tramadol can lead to addiction, and it can cause hallucinations, agitation, difficulty breathing and seizures. An overdose is potentially fatal, and the illegal use of the drug can result in a jail sentence.
“Unfortunately the number of court cases has increased,” said Ms Tawakul. “Last year there were 54 cases, and so far this year there have been 85.”
The awareness campaign – which has the slogan “Using tramadol kills pain, misusing it kills you” – will shift into top gear in September. The first stage, which will continue until December, will be limited to Dubai, but future phases will cover the whole country.
The warnings about the harm tramadol can cause apply only to those who abuse the drug, not patients prescribed it for medical conditions. The campaign is not intended to discourage the legitimate medical use of the drug.
“We want to do a massive campaign. We will be available everywhere – we will go to beaches, clubs, associations, schools, malls, universities, pharmacies and hospitals.
“We are targeting students aged 13 and above. There will be lectures and videos, and we will be communicating through social media. We are trying to communicate with a new generation and keep our community safe and secure.”
Khalid Ahmed Al Sheikh Mubarak, deputy director of the Dubai Health Authority, described the scale of tramadol abuse as an “epidemic” that was spreading through schools and universities.
“It’s a must for all related and competent authorities to educate the youth about the disastrous consequences of tramadol,” he added.