Tag Archives: over prescribed

The path from painkillers to heroin

The path from painkillers to heroin

Experts warn that prescription painkillers are leading individuals to become addicted to heroin.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, among 75% of heroin users report using opiod prescription pain medication prior to trying heroin. Despite the known side effects, painkillers like Co-codomol, Tramadol and Morphine are among the several prescription opiods prescribed by doctors in the UK for chronic pain. In 2017 alone, nearly 24 million opiods were prescribed in the UK. Further, recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show the number of people dying from opioid-related drug misuse has reached a record high in England and Wales, with around 3,700 people dying in 2016 because of drug misuse, 2000 of these involving an opiod medication. With the increase in prescription opiods use, many now question whether there is an increased risk of those who are prescribed such painkillers eventually using heroin.

Addiction through opiod painkillers develops quickly and before patients realise they progress from legitimate painkiller use to the stage of dependency and tolerance, meaning that the usual dosage is no longer sufficient to manage their pain and simply use the painkillers to keep withdrawals at bay. Many patients report that once their doctors become aware there is a problem, they stop prescribing and eventually cut them off completely; with little to no support and leaving them with nowhere to turn. Now dependent on the medication and their prescription no longer available, many patients become so desperate that they turn to heroin when they lose access to the painkillers.

This transition is all too familiar to one of PAST’s service users, who states “I broke my back in a car accident and was prescribed several pain killers, including MST (Morphine), Dydocodiene and Tramadol. I knew I was addicted as I had started to use the medication simply to feel normal and would often take more than necessary; resulting in me telling the doctor that I had ‘lost’ my prescription in order to obtain more. 3 years after my accident I was called into the doctor’s to speak about my repeat prescription and she expressed concern that I was addicted. I knew I was and she did too. The doctor immediately reduced my medication and gave me 3 weeks to come off the medication completely. The withdrawals were excruciating and I felt that I had no choice but to resort to buying the opiod pills on the street and online, and when this became too expensive I eventually began to use heroin.”

Whilst prescribed medication is not solely responsible for heroin use as many heroin users have not previously used prescription opiods, it cannot be denied that there is strong evidence demonstrating a significant number of patients prescribed opiods eventually move to heroin. There is no clear answer to this problem but it is certainly shows that there is a desperate need for support for those individuals who may have problems with prescription opiods.

If you think that you may have a problem with painkillers, whether prescription, over the counter or even online then why not attend a PAST meeting on a Tuesday afternoon at Chapter Arts, Cardiff for a coffee and a chat.

Written by Joanna Whitton – PAST

The needs of the older generation being met by prescribed medication?

I’m a great believer in respecting our elders and them passing on their knowledge and experience to help us get on in life. Yes, many have outdated ideas or perceptions of “the youth today” and have old fashioned values. But they are still here, many into their 80’s and 90’s. Many are fitter than us mid lifers. So why is it that as soon as you are 65 or pensionable age, you are considered by current legislation, an older person. That’s the age we should start to decline, shouldn’t be working or maybe not long on this mortal coil?

We may have reasonable health and fitness most of our working life but it’s at this point, earlier for some and much later for others, that especially after retirement, we “start to fall apart”. The mind set for many?

All the education we have about getting older gracefully, keep active physically or mentally, something kicks in and we start to have “problems”.

Many are lucky and can keep going but with many more this mind set of getting older brings on comparing ailments and frequent trips to the surgery and with it automatic prescriptions. We’ve been used to being prescribed medication throughout our years but usually only short term, 1 week, a month. But as we get older the prescriptions are ongoing, repeated every month, without need to see a doctor. Yes they have reviews but how many people remember how they felt before being prescribed. Some even admit to not following their medication guidelines.

It seems standard that most have at least 4 prescribed meds. Ailments usually arthritis, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes and more often than not, have been victim of a stroke. May have only been a TIA, but medication suddenly gets tripled and doesn’t get questioned. A few do look at their life style and diet so as to refrain from having to take anything, but most accept they are getting older and increased medication comes with the territory.

In my work I have met people who will not go to have their cataracts removed or go for that hearing test their children keep on at them about, but will accept the side effects from the multiple medications they are on. This is often out of fear that something will go wrong or that they’ll seem like an elderly person. Yet unknowing either having more health problems as a result of long term use or becoming addicted to certain medication.

What are our older population being prescribed? How do we know which are not appropriate for elderly use. Some antipsychotic drugs may not be appropriate for our older population with dementia especially women as can worsen confusion. Some drugs can have adverse effects or even have no effect at all due to long term usage.

When visiting our local surgeries, we never get to see our doctor anymore. It could be another partner or a locum. All experienced and qualified, but may not know our history. When discharged from hospital, additional medication is prescribed. More work is needed to educate our older trusting more vulnerable members of our communities to ensure their medication is appropriate, in date, not counter active to other medication prescribed and most important, the side effects are not going to be life threatening.

Further reading



(C.W. actively works to ensure that all older people are safe, secure and their needs are appropriately met.)