Doctors and politicians have warned that addiction to prescription medication is becoming just as much of a problem in the UK as illegal drug use.
Experts at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence have said they’re so concerned about the problem, they predict we could be heading for a public health disaster.
Figures from the National Treatment Agency confirm these fears as they show that opioid prescriptions rose from three to 23 million between 1991 and 2014. Defined daily doses for Tramadol increased from 5.9 million to 11.1 million between 2005 and 2012, while prescriptions for co-codamol jumped from 8.8 million in 2001 to 15 million in 2011.
Fueling these concerns is the growing number of patients who are overdosing on prescription drugs. In 2013 there were 807 fatal overdoses which involved prescription drugs, a 16% increase compared to the previous five years. In comparison, 718 deaths were caused as a result of taking heroin and cocaine - a number which has continued to fall since 2005. In 1996 there was one fatal overdose from Tramadol. By 2014, in England and Wales this had risen to 240 cases.
Why do prescription drugs become a problem?
Doctors have reinforced that while there is plenty of focus on helping those with a substance abuse problem involving illegal drugs, people stuck on prescription medication have nowhere to turn.
Prescription drugs are often misunderstood because we’re told to take them by a trusted professional. Because of this, we assume they’re perfectly safe and in many cases, users don’t even recognise they have a problem.
Addiction to prescription painkillers, such as opioids often begins after injury or surgery when a patient has been prescribed them. While opioids are very effective at relieving pain, the problem is that we build up a tolerance to them very quickly. What’s more, these drugs increase nerve sensitivity, meaning that previous, non-painful stimuli become painful with long-term use. It then becomes a vicious circle as patients need to take more medicine to help them deal with the pain.
There are a number of other reasons a person may become addicted to the medication they have been taking. Although it can happen to anyone, some factors do increase your chances of becoming vulnerable to prescription drug abuse including:
- If you currently or have previously suffered from another addiction, you’re at a higher risk of becoming addicted to prescription drugs.
- If you have family members with addiction problems, your chances are also higher. This may be because you have inherited genes which make you more likely to become addicted.
- Those who have experienced childhood trauma such as physical or sexual abuse, violence or losing a parent, may turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism and start to develop prescription medication abuse symptoms.
Signs of prescription drug addiction
- You’re constantly thinking about your medication - you will become preoccupied with when you can take your next dose and whether your supply is enough.
- You’ve stopped following your doctor’s advice and take your medication more often than recommended.
- You want to change doctor because yours if refusing to prescribe you more pills.
- You get your medication from other sources, even if it’s unsafe.
- While some conditions require long-term medication, others don’t. If you’re still taking pain relief for a broken bone that healed six months ago for example, this could be a sign of a problem
- You’re not quite yourself. An addiction can affect us both mentally and physically. Perhaps you’re not taking care of yourself the way you used to, you’ve stopped caring about personal hygiene or you’re suffering from mood swings. You may also find yourself getting more angry than usual, neglecting responsibilities and sleeping or eating habits may also change.
If you think that you or someone you know could have a prescription drug problem, please feel free to contact Life Works in the strictest of confidence and we will be more than happy to help.