Vicki has been clean for three months after an overdose and almost died.
But what he didn’t realize, when his family doctor prescribed codeine for kidney stone pain, is that this common pain reliever and its derivatives can be as addictive as heroin when taken in large doses. And some of them, such as fentanyl, can be many times stronger than heroin. In two years he had developed a 60-day habit that almost killed her, before starting to detoxify.
“I was taking two boxes of Solpadeine Max every day. There are 30 in a box, ”says Vicki, 32.
Codeine is one of a class of medications known as opioids that are related to heroin. In the United Kingdom, the rate at which they are prescribed has skyrocketed, leaving hundreds of thousands of people unable to stop using potentially lethal drugs.
Opioids are currently devastating the United States: the The opioid epidemic prescribed there represents more deaths than firearms crimes. Now, a historical study has raised serious concerns about our own relationship with painkillers.
The Public Health England report has revealed that 5.6 million people in England and Wales were prescribed an opioid last year, and more than half a million people have been taking it for three years.
According to an investigation by BBC Two Horizon, presented by Dr. Michael Mosley, the opioids we consume collectively have doubled in the last 20 years.
“There is no doubt that opioids have a vital role to play in cancer pain, end-of-life care or to relieve pain after an operation, but that does not begin to explain the increase in the prescription we have seen in recent years, “he says.
“One in eight of us is taking them, and millions of us are stuck in these long-term pain relievers.”
Vicki is definitely a warning story. The connection coordinator for a utility company has been “clean” during the last three months after an overdose and almost died, but every day is still a struggle.
In two years he had developed a 60-day habit that almost killed her, before starting to detoxify.
“I started because of kidney stones, but I was really taking them for mental pain,” he adds. “I lost my father when I was five years old and my mother had cancer when I was 18 years old.
“The year after her death, my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer and she died when I was 27 years old. My best friend died in a car accident and then my uncle died.
“That’s the backstory. Once I found codeine, it gave me this warm fuzzy feeling that helped me deal with my negative thoughts.
“My whole body was relaxed. I felt it could work well daily. It was a very comforting emotion and at that time there was no better feeling because I just didn’t want to feel anything. “
In a short time, in a desperate attempt to feed his habit, Vicki, who lives in Salford, Greater Manchester, began stealing opioid medications from his dying aunt.
Vicki’s waking thoughts were consumed with the supply of his supply, touring the area around the office where he was working to find pharmacists who did not recognize it, so they would sell him medications.
“My life was organized around tablets,” says Vicki. “I was getting up an hour earlier in the morning and searching Google to find chemicals I could go to before work.”
Pharmacists are supposed to ask questions before selling these painkillers at the counter
Pharmacists are supposed to ask a series of questions before selling these painkillers at the counter to eliminate addicts, but, as the program shows, these questions are often asked superficially, if they do.
“It would seem that they really didn’t bother, and you could easily go to another chemist,” Vicki adds.
Friends worried, as did their GP. “He realized that he was going more and more to him, trying to get me to prescribe them. He told me that codeine was part of the heroin family and that I was going to have to follow some kind of treatment program.
“He said that he would normally have put me methadone, but that it was just as addictive. I was lucky, he put me in a detoxification center, because I had experience in mental health and addiction. ” After three weeks, she was clean.
The danger with opioids is that the body develops a tolerance to them, and they are often mixed with paracetamol which, while not addictive, can cause fatal liver damage when taken in amounts greater than the recommended dose.
That is exactly what Vicki was risking when he was under the control of his addiction.
“Frankly, I’m surprised she isn’t dead,” says Dr. Mosley, who interviewed her for her Horizon investigation. “Those doses I was taking were extraordinary.”
Now, Public Health England’s concern is that the prescription of well-intentioned but wrong opioids by family doctors is placing many patients in the hands of an addiction they are not aware of, until they try to stop their medication.
Side effects of these medications may include memory loss, addiction and even accidental death.
All of these medications come with a health warning, which should only be taken for a limited period of time, days instead of months or years.
“For care at the end of life and acute pain are very appropriate. If you are dying and have pain, there is nothing better. But the problem is that they are now prescribed for chronic pain, where they are actually less effective, ”says Dr. Mosley.
“I had not fully appreciated how inappropriate they are for chronic pain, how you have to keep increasing your intake at sometimes quite extraordinary doses in the hope of getting some benefit and increasing side effects.”
He fears that the United Kingdom may see an opioid crisis approaching in the United States over the next five years, partly due to the ease with What over-the-counter opioids can be purchased at pharmacies and online.
Dr. Mosley discovered that British pharmacies sell opioids without applying standard guidelines, and also managed to buy high-prescription opioids online with a false name.
Side effects of these medications may include memory loss, addiction and even accidental death from overdose.
But just as dangerous, he says, is the psychological aspect of prolonged use of high doses.
“Long-term users are afraid to leave opioids because they fear that their pain will get worse. When they do, they are often surprised that it doesn’t.”
But many never get this far, afraid to stop relying on pills that they think are helping them manage chronic conditions.
Although it is possible to quit smoking, the temptation may remain.
“When I came out of detoxification, I faced the big bad, raw world,” says Vicki.
“You have to find some inner strength. I looked at my house and thought “It’s not that bad.” And that was it.
“But don’t get confused. I don’t think you can really get over it. When I pass a pharmacist, there is still a pull, there is always a pull. Everyone wants to feel good every day. I am lucky because I have a fairly strong will, but in the future I think there should be some kind of protection system for vulnerable people who are under the control of this addiction. We definitely need more protection. “
* Addicted to painkillers? Britain’s opioid crisis is on BBC Two, January 16, 9 p.m.