Psychiatrist says medication should be made prescription only after study reveals significant number of abusers, writes MICHELLE McDONAGH
THE NEED for over-the-counter (OTC) opiates to be changed to prescription only has been highlighted by an Irish consultant psychiatrist who says this medication is “too addictive and too dangerous” to be available in this manner.
A new study has revealed that there are a significant number of OTC opiate abusers and it that is a serious condition.
The research, carried out by Dr Conor Farren, consultant psychiatrist at St Patrick’s University Hospital, Dublin, shows that it is possible for a person to take very significant quantities of OTC opiates that produce massive withdrawal symptoms, equivalent to those experienced by a heroin addict.
Dr Farren pointed out that a significant number of people relapsed within six months, suggesting that once addicted to OTC opiates, the problem did not easily go away even after going through a detox.
The research, which is published in the current issue of the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, involved a total of 20 patients who were admitted to St Patrick’s with the diagnosis of either opiate harmful use or opiate dependency between April 1st, 2007, and April 30th, 2008.
All 20 patients were misusing codeine-based substances with Solpadeine, Nurofen and Nurofen Plus being the most commonly used products.
The study’s findings suggest that the typical OTC abuser tends to be female and middle aged with medical and psychiatric illness.
Dr Farren said: “This is much broader than just 20 patients in one Irish hospital. We trawled every journal in the world and could find nothing on OTC drug abuse despite the fact that this is a very significant problem.
“There is a massive amount of OTC opiate abuse that is totally hidden and this is the only study of its kind at the moment.”
The psychiatrist said that while Irish pharmacists had “done a little bit” in the past six months in relation to the sale of codeine-based OTC opiates, the problem had not gone away.
He pointed out that a customer who got a warning from one pharmacy about their use of OTC opiates could simply move on to another.
“I believe that at this stage there needs to be a change from OTC opiates to prescription only. This medication is too addictive and too dangerous to be left available as OTC,” said Dr Farren.
“I feel that there would be a significant decrease in abuse were the medications to be made prescription only, and that it is highly risky to leave these addictive medications available over the counter, with only general advice from the pharmacist.”
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