In Ivory Coast, the hunt for “Gaddafi”, a new drug popular among young people

Twelve years after the death of the former Libyan dictator, the name of Gaddafi is on everyone's lips in Ivory Coast

In Ivory Coast, the hunt for “Gaddafi”, a new drug popular among young people

Twelve years after the death of the former Libyan dictator, the name of Gaddafi is on everyone's lips in Ivory Coast. Not to celebrate the deceased leader, but to designate a drug that is spreading among young people, marketed in the form of tablets and often consumed with alcohol, to increase its sedative effect tenfold.

The phenomenon was born from a song by the group 100 Papo, almost unknown until then, who posted an excerpt of a song this summer on the social network TikTok. The words, in Nouchi, Ivorian slang, repeated over and over: “I want wôrô mon gadhafi” can be translated as “I want to get high on Gaddafi”. In the images that have since circulated on social networks, young people appear under the influence of the drug, or simulating its effects: haggard, barely able to stand, their jaws sometimes clenched or their faces covered in sweat... Gaddafi is now even the subject of choreographic challenges.

It was enough for public opinion to become alarmed and for the police, considering the phenomenon to be a public health issue, to launch a nationwide campaign at the beginning of July. On September 6, the Directorate of Narcotics and Drugs Police (DPSD) indicated that it had already seized 5 tons of so-called “inferior quality” medicines, that is to say counterfeit drugs. Since the beginning of the month, spectacular seizures have multiplied in the territory, widely reported in the local press: 927 kg of tablets on September 12 in San Pedro (south-west), 16,000 tablets in Ferkessédougou (north). Last raid, Tuesday, on the Adjamé market in Abidjan, where the "Roxy" branch, dedicated to medicines, was temporarily closed after various seizures... Gaddafi's supply channels have not yet been identified, but seem modeled on those of tramadol, according to several sources. Marketed on the Indian market, it is imported throughout the region. Seizures were made in Ghana, Burkina Faso and as far as Niger.

Dangerous side effects

The official version, given by the narcotics police and repeated by the Ivorian press, confuses the two drugs, undoubtedly because of the resemblance between tramadol and one of Gaddafi's trade names, Tramaking. “It is not a drug,” declared the divisional commissioner of the DPSD, Touré Atchet Mabonga. But rather a preparation obtained from mixing drugs diverted from the official circuit with water or alcohol in order to obtain a strong sensation. These young people use tramadol dosed in 250 mg, which is a painkiller generally prescribed to terminally ill people, which they mix with the drink Vody”, a cheap alcoholic and energy drink, very popular among young Ivorians.

In fact, a search on Indian online drug sales platforms reveals that Tramaking, also marketed under the name Royal, is composed of two active ingredients, carisoprodol and tapentadol. The first is a muscle relaxant, the second a strong opioid prescribed for severe pain. Combined, the two can cause dangerous side effects: itching, discomfort, convulsions, fainting... Up to proving fatal in the event of an overdose, explains Boris Affognon known as "Satchmo", community mobilizer in the association supporting urban health self-promotion (ASAPSU). “A few days ago, while we were working in a smoking room in Bingerville [open-air drug consumption space, in a town east of Abidjan], we had to intervene to save a young man who was choked on his tongue, he says. We've already had deaths. They fall asleep and don't wake up. »

Rather than using one of the trade names, consumers prefer to call this drug "apple", referring to the fruit that adorns the medicine boxes, or "225", which designates the dosage of the active ingredient in each tablet. And why the nickname Gaddafi? Here, the hypotheses differ. For Samuel N'Guessan, who works in a risk reduction project with drug users, "the term appeared during and after the Ivorian crisis, between 2011 and 2013. At that time, emigration was in full swing in Côte d'Ivoire. of Ivory, and candidates for exile had to pass through Libya to reach Lampedusa. Many of the soldiers they met in Libya were taking these tablets, and Muammar Gaddafi had just died…I think that’s where the name came from.”

Consumption habits

Apart from the seizure figures communicated by the DPSD, there are no national statistics on this narcotic, whether in terms of the number of users or consumption habits. The phenomenon is urban, according to observers, but is not confined to Abidjan: large cities such as Yamoussoukro, Bouaké and San Pedro are also affected. “We consume Gaddafi where we buy it,” says Samuel N’Guessan. Either in smoke shops that sell them, or on the street, near dealers. » Gaddafi, even more than tramadol, is consumed by the most modest classes of the Ivorian population.

“We discovered this by regularly hitting the streets in search of substances that make us feel good,” says a 24-year-old from Abidjan who says he can get his supplies “everywhere.” The new drug has two advantages over tramadol: longer effects and scored tablets. “We can bring together the sum of four people,” continues the young man, who wishes to remain anonymous, “and each take a quarter of the tablet. »

Unlike other narcotics, popular among young people from the middle and upper classes, Gaddafi had the advantage of being inexpensive, between 200 CFA francs and 500 CFA francs (between 0.30 euros and 0.76 euros). per tablet, depending on the neighborhood. But since TikTok got involved, the numerous seizures have caused prices to skyrocket. It is now rare to find it for less than 1,000 CFA francs, or even 1,500 CFA francs.