In 2009 an Anti-Drug Task Force in Cairo seized a shipment of drugs containing over 2.5 million tramadol pills. That same year researchers estimated that 30% of men ages 14 to 30 years old in Cairo were addicted to tramadol, which was entering the country in large illegal shipments from China and India. Drug addiction remains an ongoing serious problem in Egypt today, especially in Cairo, where an estimated 1.4 million are drug addicted, most commonly to tramadol or heroin.
Any major drug epidemic is never about statistics, but one individual’s suffering. As one young man in Cairo said, “I would like to stop taking tramadol, because I am tired and depleted from the inside. All of my internal organs are at God’s mercy. I feel my wife will try to wake me up one day and I will not wake up.”
Tramadol has long been considered a non-addictive drug, even though it is a weak narcotic. Many countries, including the United States, do not classify it as a controlled substance. The drug is unusual in that it affects levels of serotonin, a brain chemical associated with pleasure, and therefore works something like an anti-depressant as well as a painkiller.