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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

War declared on Tramadol

Ukraine has nearly 900,000 hard-core drug addicts, experts say
27 March, 2007 - 00:00
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

Approaching me was a fair-haired teenager, who was “floating” instead of walking, and waving his hands in the air. He had a happy smile on his face, and from the look in his eyes it was clear he did not see any passersby. He was completely oblivious of where he was. It occurred to me that he might be in a love daze or simply dancing. But when he almost fell under the wheels of a car, I shuddered: he was a drug addict.

I saw him again a few days later: this time he looked quite respectable and was in a hurry. I stopped and couldn’t help looking back at him: do his parents know about his “hobby?” Maybe he can still be saved. He is so young and handsome, and has his whole life ahead of him. In reality, what drug abusers have in store is an overdose, and death. They begin with the “innocent” hobby of smoking grass and then graduate to increasingly larger doses of pain-killers, which can only lead to a terrible demise.

Experts claim that two-thirds of all schoolchildren in Lviv oblast have tried opioids, and one-quarter of them become hard-core drug users. There are about 900,000 drug addicts in Ukraine, although official data and statistics collected by civic organizations differ.

But the official figure was called the most plausible one at a recent press conference in Lviv’s Press Club of Reforms. An initiative group from Doroha, a drug addiction treatment center, invited representatives of numerous civic organizations that are dealing with what may easily be called a disaster.

In the past 10 years addiction to Tramadol has reached epidemic proportions in Ukraine. What is puzzling is why this problem cannot be solved when so many people are aware of it, and so many conscientious and dedicated people are combating it. But a lot of strange things happen in Ukraine. Although things seem to be clear, it is too difficult to change anything. The Tramadol problem is snowballing, drawing increasing numbers of young people into its insane orbit. Not unjustifiably, the word “genocide” comes to mind.


Besides average citizens and members of civic organizations, even the police say that Tramadol should be put on the list of restricted narcotics. So it is not clear why the authorities are stalling. (On the contrary, everything is clear: it is a question of big money.) On April 21, 2006, Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs sent another official request to the Cabinet of Ministers, but the government turned a deaf ear to it. As a result, this opioid is the third most popular drug in Ukraine, after marijuana and poppy straw, because it is easy to get.

The most terrible thing is that at first parents see that their child has suddenly become cheerful and easygoing, gets along with his peers, does well in school, and can concentrate. This is the initial effect of Tramadol. But once you get used to it and need a larger dose, you see the real effects of this drug. Former drug addicts, who kicked the habit with the help of the Doroha staff, told us that they used three packages a day. Addicts for whom this was a small dose later switch to injections. What happens then is common knowledge.

Tramadol was originally designed for cancer patients to ease pain in the terminal stage of the disease. But the production of this drug is more than three times higher than the required amount for cancer patients (not to mention illegal manufacturing). Ukraine produces 76 million doses of Tramadol every year, while the actual requirement is 4 million.


You can get Tramadol from a drug dealer or at an ordinary drugstore. A protest action was recently held near two drugstores of the Doktor chain of pharmacies in Lviv. It was organized by the Liubov Rehabilitation Center and a civic organization called Posol. About 50 people chanted a variety of anti- Tramadol and anti-drug slogans. The protesters placed a black coffin labeled “Tramadol” in front of each drugstore and hung mourning wreaths on the front doors.

One of the demonstrators was Oleksandr Oleksiuk, a co-founder of Posol. “Tramadol is a 21st-century drug. In the past, people would usually shoot up, but now they prefer taking all kinds of pills. These drugs have terrible consequences. People who use Tramadol live for one or two years — three at the most. Sometimes they become paralyzed or they die of an overdose.”

A few years ago, Lviv City Council member Yurii Kardashevsky officially requested Lviv Mayor Andrii Sadovy “to intervene in the young people’s situation,” insisting that Tramadol is too easily accessible to children and teenagers. Even though “this medication requires a prescription, teenagers pay about three hryvnias more and get it over the counter for about eight. This plague is spreading very fast across our city,” says Kardashevsky.

On July 15, 2005, the Ministry of Health finally decided to put Tramadol and Tramalgin on the list of restricted drugs to be sold by prescription only. But this proved to be ineffective — sales regulations should be even stricter. Today, selling Tramadol without a prescription carries a fine of 51 hryvnias. Since a drugstore chain can earn an annual 10,000 to 50,000 hryvnias from this drug, a pharmacy could pay fines every hour and still line its pockets with no fear of losing profits. If some moral individuals think that this kind of behavior is unconscionable, I can assure them that people who sell Tramadol to children do not fear either human or divine justice.

Ihor Lebedynets, a psychologist at the Doroha Rehabilitation Center, says that the protest action near the pharmacies that are involved in criminal activity did not put a dent in their operations. “I asked the police to help me film the sale of Tramadol without a prescription in drugstores with a hidden camera. They refused. I think they were afraid of the consequences. I saw once again the warped world in which we live, and in a fit of despair I turned to an influential criminal. Without skipping a beat, he cut out a hole in the tinted window of his posh jeep to make it easier to film. I intend to hand the films over to law-enforcement bodies,” Lebedynets said.

“After receiving the go-ahead from church patriarchs, some civic organizations visited a special orphanage that houses handicapped children, including children of drug abusers. They plan to show the footage in educational institutions.”


The impression is that the entire Lviv community has become galvanized into action. Thirty influential civic organizations signed a huge appeal called “The City’s Destiny Is in Your Hands” the day it appeared on the Internet. I hope the Civic Forum of Lviv (HFL), which spearheaded the war on Tramadol, does not lose its enthusiasm. Ukraine faces a horrible fate unless each of us becomes aware that combating drugs is everyone’s business.

The message to the Lviv Oblast and City councils, Lviv law-enforcement bodies, the local SBU branch, the Ministry of Public Health of Ukraine, the public, and the mass media, contained the following lines: “Our data states that after Tramadol was declared a narcotic drug, plans were made to continue manufacturing it under a different name and with a negligible change to its components. (In the summer of 2006, pharmacies in Lviv and Lviv oblast began selling Zoldiar, an analogue of Tramadol). There are also plans to increase the output of these medications at other pharmaceutical plants in eastern Ukraine.

“The Civic Forum of Lviv considers this form of legalizing and marketing drugs in Ukraine an act of genocide against its people and demands that this be recognized at the official level.

“The CFL demands that law- enforcement bodies and the SBU adopt urgent measures to stop non- prescription sales of Tramadol and other narcotics in Lviv’s drugstores and prosecute those who are turning our children into drug addicts.

“The HFL urges the Ministry of Health to immediately place Tramadol and related medications on the register of narcotic drugs and stop marketing them in Ukraine until the registration is completed.

“Let us save the Ukrainian people from extinction by our joint efforts!”

The residents of Lviv are not the only ones fighting drug abuse. Every now and then the media report on the seizure of illegal drugs, raids of drug addicts’ hangouts, and the launch of criminal cases. In February alone, 30 kg of drugs were seized, 352 instances of illegal trafficking were uncovered, and 11 drug haunts were closed in Donetsk oblast. In one week in February, Lviv law enforcers detained 124 people for illegal drug operations, and exposed 7 drug hangouts. Sixty criminal cases were opened in connection with illegal drug trafficking, including 11 for selling drugs, 5 for illegal production, 3 for running a drug hangout, etc.

It is clear that Ukraine is tackling this problem on both sides of the country. Even three or four years ago drug abuse control showed some excellent results. We have adopted progressive laws and take an active part in equally progressive foreign programs, but the drug problem has not gone away. Does this mean we are doing something wrong? Perhaps we should really start with Tramadol and its derivatives, but be fully aware that a large number of drug-addicted young people will immediately find themselves without their next dose. The burden will then fall on doctors, civic organizations, psychologists, and the police.

In any case, these consequences are inevitable. Placing Tramadol on the list of restricted narcotics will not solve all the problems, but at least some teenagers will be saved. This must be followed by other measures aimed at making healthy young people understand that drugs kill. Those who profit from the drug trade will be cursed in popular memory until the seventh generation.

To the credit of Ukrainian politicians and the public, the Holodomor in Ukraine has at last been recognized as an act of genocide. And what shall we say if drugs are causing far more losses and harm to the nation?

By Iryna YEHOROVA, The Day