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Warning that patients may be going 'codeine shopping’ to access the addictive painkiller

Codeine addiction is at “epidemic” levels, according to a new article in the IMJ

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CODEINE ADDICTION IS at “epidemic” levels in Ireland, according to an article published in the latest Irish Medical Journal.

The drug is an opiate that is primarily used to treat pain and is available without a prescription in Ireland. The article points to figures in the UK which shows that it is the second most prescribed opiate in the UK.

The drug can be dispensed by a pharmacist providing they “make the patient aware of the side effects”, including the addictive potential of the drug.

The author of the article, a medical student in the University of Limerick, says they have experience of codeine addiction being “hidden under the guise of pain management”.

“It may be difficult to monitor a particular patient if they are ‘codeine shopping’- travelling to different pharmacies to purchase codeine, ” the article states.

Furthermore, it may be difficult for a pharmacist to discern unsuitable codeine sales if well-constructed and credible explanations regarding pain are given by the patient and there are no obvious outward signs of misuse.

“Without medical supervision, a large proportion of the Irish population is self-medicating with codeine and many have unknowingly developed an addiction,” the author adds.

The article concludes that more research on the topic is required in Ireland and that “codeine addiction is an epidemic verging on eruption”.

It is suggested that the problem could be somewhat reduced if codeine’s legal status was changed to prescription-only, as was done recently in Australia and Italy.

In a response to the article by Cormac Kennedy of St. James’s Hospital, also published in the Irish Medical Journal, he argues that making codeine prescription-only could present some problems.

Among them would be “placing an additional burden on our strained primary care system” and also having the unintended consequence of potentially having people prescribed “more potent prescription-only opioids inadvertently”

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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