As the world has been transfixed by the opioid crisis in North America, another crisis has been unfolding, largely unreported, across West and North Africa.
The addictive prescription painkiller Tramadol has exploded in popularity, used by everyone from workers trying to cope with long hours and gruelling labour, to university students looking to have a good time. It’s even the drug of choice for members of Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, helping to fuel their violence.
Now, governments are threatening to crack down, using the same War on Drugs methods of repression that have failed everywhere else. Meanwhile, as counterfeit pills flood the continent, new research is questioning whether people are even taking real Tramadol at all.