Across Africa, the GI-TOC has documented the proliferation of synthetic drugs, the resulting transformation of drugs markets and the escalation of drug-related harm.

The nature of synthetic drug markets – with their low barriers to entry and flexible supply chains – makes them attractive to criminal actors and difficult to respond to. The response in Africa is further hampered by a dearth of evidence regarding the scope and scale of the synthetic drug market. This report explores how synthetic drug markets respond to programming seeking to disrupt them. Tramadol is used as a lens through which to consider existing response frameworks to synthetic drugs in the ECOWAS region and more broadly.

Key findings

  • Supply-side responses should target sites close to the point of production of the synthetic drug.
  • It is key to harmonise enforcement and regulation of synthetic drugs across different jurisdictions.
  • Policy-makers must consider demand, in particular Tramadol’s role as a painkiller, in shaping responses.
  • Responses to synthetic drugs in Africa are far behind the curve: the proliferation of substances poses a significant challenge to identification, and interdiction.
  • We cannot see what we are not looking for: there is an urgent need for more data on synthetic drug markets in Africa.