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Scientists want to figure out the best way to use codeine - without getting addicted to it

A €2 million research project has got underway in Waterford.

A general view of an agricultural poppy field in Dorset where the flowers are being grown for medicinal purposes to produce poppy-based drugs, such as morphine or codeine.
A general view of an agricultural poppy field in Dorset where the flowers are being grown for medicinal purposes to produce poppy-based drugs, such as morphine or codeine.
Image: Chris Ison/PA Archive/Press Association Images

RESEARCHERS IN WATERFORD Institute of Technology are trying to figure out how to get the best out of codeine – without getting addicted to it.

The €2 million project, launched this week, will look into codeine use, misuse and dependence in Ireland, the UK and South Africa.

WIT is working with King’s College, London and the Medical Research Council in South Africa, as well as a number of chemists, including TV star Ramona Nicholas’ Cara Pharmacy.

An over-the-counter painkiller, cough suppressant and anti-diarrhoeal, codeine is the most-commonly used opiate in the world.

According to the researchers, its abuse potential is a major concern for medics, pharmacists and other treatment providers.

Because of variants in metabolisms, some people can can become physically dependent on codeine after just three days of use.

There is also a large number of sub groups who take codeine products – including pain patients; the elderly; parents and children; and recreational, problematic and opiate dependent drug users – who each have their own motives, patterns and outcomes for use.

It is, then, difficult to come up with perfect safe dosages.

Increases in the number of people seeking treatment for codeine dependency and concerns for appropriate design of treatment protocols have been recorded globally, as a result.

The researchers hope that by examining closely the extent of use, misuse and dependence on the drug in the three countries, they will be able to promote a rational use of problems among the public – and within prescribing and dispensing communities.

“Our main aim is to design several innovations to support and educate customers and empower pharmacies as custodians of codeine medicines,” explained Dr Marie Claire Van Hout, the principal investigator, who has extensive experience in the field of drug addiction.

She noted the importance of having academia and industry working together to improve patient outcomes.

The study is projected to end in September 2017. It will employ a mixed-method approach, such as surveys, data sweeps and literature reviews. There are also one-to-one interviews with codeine users and dependents planned.

“Industry (pharmacy chains) and academia exchanges in the form of secondments of staff, workshops, seminars and conferences will occur throughout the duration of the project so as to collaborate, exchange knowledge and expertise, inform and guide the work,” the project organisers also explained.

“Data will be used to inform the design of innovative outputs in the form of pharmacy based brief interventions and customer monitoring systems, continuing staff training and management of appropriate treatment interventions.”

Read: 43% of mothers use the internet to diagnose their children’s symptoms when sick

More: Safety warning over giving codeine tablets to under-18s

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