Drug addiction has a hidden face. The stereotypical image of a down-and-out heroin addict desperate for a fix can obscure the less familiar figure of the 40-something mum who secretly pops painkillers, watching the clock until it’s time for her next dose.
‘Respectable addiction’ is not an emerging societal problem, as some might believe; it has been prevalent for many years. International research spanning well over a decade has suggested that a surprisingly high number of people are knowingly or otherwise abusing over the counter (OTC) medications, and there is widespread awareness of this problem among both the general public and the professionals – doctors and pharmacists – alike.
Non-prescription analgesics containing codeine – a short-acting opium-based drug that belongs to the same family as heroin and morphine – are the most commonly identified OTC medicines being abused in Ireland, but problems have also been linked to products containing dextromethorphan (cough suppressant), pseudoephedrine (decongestant) and laxatives.
Although the true extent of OTC misuse/abuse and addiction in Ireland is unclear, all indications are that it is relatively widespread and increasing. In a 2007 survey of over 100 pharmacists in Ireland, the vast majority (94%) believed that some customers, estimated at an average of four per day, who purchased products containing codeine, were addicted to codeine.
According to the National Drug Treatment Reporting System, maintained by the Health Research Board, the numbers entering treatment for codeine as a problem drug have increased considerably in recent years, from 40 in 1998 to 180 in 2009. In addition, between 1998 and 2007, codeine, either alone or in conjunction with another drug, was implicated in the cause of 90 fatal poisonings.....
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