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[Medical Independent] , Fogarty, James The remedy as the problem. (04 Oct 2012)

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Increasing rates of addiction to OTC painkillers and microbial resistance to common antibiotics are causing concern among the medical community, James Fogarty reports.

The last century saw a giant step forward in medicine. The development of antibiotics meant that previously deadly bacteria could be treated. Medication has become a regular fixture in people’s homes.

Nowadays names like penicillin, paracetamol and ibuprofen are familiar house-hold words, but familiarity can breed contempt.

While these resources are common, even available over the counter, are we using them properly? Or have their very availability meant they are being misused and abused? The evidence suggests they are.

According to figures from the National Drug Treatment Reporting System, which is maintained by the Health Research Board (HRB), the numbers entering treatment for codeine addiction have “increased considerably”. The numbers have increased from 40 in 1998 to 180 in 2009.

Elsewhere, Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organisation warned that antibiotic resistant bacteria could spell the end of modern medicine; a resistance borne in no small way from the inappropriate use of the drugs.

Over the counter

The new consultant deal and the recent civil war at Hawkins House between Minster Reilly and Minister Shortall has overshadowed a number of interesting stories regarding OTC drugs. The revelation that gangs in Limerick are using such medicines to produce crystal meth is alarming to say the least and may lead to yet more drug-related death and misery. Another story from the UK highlighted the fact that improper use of OTC drugs can lead to rebound headaches.

Concern over misuse of OTC and prescription drugs is nothing new and there have been various attempts to try to tackle the problem. In 2010, the law changed allowing pharmacists to question people wishing to buy products containing codeine. Earlier this year, the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) introduced new guidelines on liquid paracetamol doses for children. However, it added that the development was not linked to safety issues but were introduced “as a proactive measure” to optimise effectiveness.

However, despite these changes, the level of misuse is still relatively unknown, a knowledge gap which some believe may be having serious consequences.

Dr Garrett McGovern is a GP specialising in addiction and he believes that current attempts to tackle illicit use are falling short. Codeine addiction, he said, is a big problem.


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