Malta seized 225 million pills of Tramadol, the freedom fighter’s drug of choice

One of Malta’s greatest drug seizures has been a large consignment of Tramadol, an analgesic whose strength is claimed to be about 10% of morphine

One of Malta’s greatest drug seizures by its Customs directorate has been large consignment of Tramadol, an analgesic whose strength is claimed to be about 10% of morphine. 

Tramadol is used to treat both acute and chronic pain, and considered as a medicinal drug with a low potential for dependence. But there is growing evidence of abuse of tramadol in some African and West Asian countries considering large seizures of such preparations in North and West Africa. Abuse of tramadol is reported by Egypt, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia and Togo. Because of increasing rate of abuse, Egypt has up-scheduled tramadol in 2009. 

Malta Customs seized approximately 225 million pills between 2015 and 2018 in Opoeration Peacock Pills, when 1.2 billion pills were seized globally by participating countries. The value of the seized pills is considered to reach circa €1.2 billion. 

“Tramadol is a prescriptive drug. However, prescriptions of such drugs are generally in small doses. The amounts seized by Malta Customs are in large dozes and it is believed that these were destined to stimulate soldiers or freedom fighters to conduct attacks or fights under a hallucinating effect,” the Customs said this week in a statement reporting on the Tramadol seizures.

A December 2017 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, found that ‘yearly seizures of tramadol in sub-Saharan Africa have risen from 300 kg to over 3 tons since 2013’. Niger has emerged as a key gateway for tramadol trafficked from Nigeria, where it is readily available and fuelling a widespread addiction crisis, partly due to the country’s lax monitoring of pharmaceuticals. From Nigeria, consignments of tramadol are trafficked mainly to consumer markets in Libya and, now, to a lesser extent, Niger and Mali.

Between 2015 and 2020, Malta Customs seized drugs worth over €110.2 million in street value

The interception of large quantities of cocaine, cannabis resin and increasingly heroin transported by sea in containers is raising concerns on the infiltration by organised crime groups of logistical supply chains, shipping routes and large ports, the Malta Customs has said.

“Considering that business related with narcotics may provide links to global organised crime groups, Malta Customs has been disseminating all the information pertaining to these seizures to foreign counterparts and investigative institutions,” the department said.