As the sun rose on the first day of the Eid holiday, Youssef, an apprentice in a Cairo butcher shop, sat, knife in hand, covered in blood, nodding off. He had been awake for more than 24 hours, chopping up cows, goats and sheep in preparation for the holiday feast.
From the rowdy crowd of customers and bleating animals, another blood-covered butcher appeared with a packet of medication in hand. He popped a small red pill into Youssef's palm, and the apprentice took it immediately.
In minutes, Youssef - who declined to give his last name - was up, energised and back to work.
The pill was tramadol, an opiate that increases brain serotonin levels and relieves pain. This prescription-only painkiller is not as strong as heroin, but it shares many of the same effects. Although it is an opiate, it also has some anti-depressant properties, which make users feel more energetic.
Egyptians are using the pill as a recreational drug and also, reportedly, as an aphrodisiac. But most commonly, it serves as a cheap energy boost. At $3 for a sheet of ten pills, tramadol is generally affordable even in Egypt's dismal economy, and for many working-class people it has become a solution for the long, arduous workdays. A small-time Cairo drug dealer, who asked to be identified by the pseudonym *Mohamed Farafiro, claimed that Egyptians like using the drug because it makes them productive.
Tramadol was first introduced to Egypt as a medication for cancer patients, and was produced in Germany and local pharmaceutical plants. Egyptians started experimenting with the pill roughly ten years ago, according to drug dealers, casual users, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Soon it caught on, and those who were taking tramadol to relax began to use it during work. Its popularity grew when the floundering job market forced many educated Egyptians into trade work and manual labour. "Lots of people take tramadol because they have two jobs and they can hardly sleep," said Ahmed Tourk, from the working-class Cairo neighborhood of Shubra. (Más)
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