‘Codeine luring people into drug abuse’

‘Codeine luring people into drug abuse’
Picture: iStock

Over-the-counter painkillers that contain codeine are ‘tip-toeing’ more people into addiction, according to one researcher.

Emma McDonnell, a medical student at the University of Limerick, says: “Codeine addiction is an epidemic verging on eruption.”

McDonnell, who is studying in the graduate-entry medical school at UL, previously qualified as a pharmacist at Trinity College Dublin. She does weekend locum work in pharmacies to help pay her college fees.

While problems with cocaine are often in the headlines, over-the-counter codeine pain killers are an emerging addiction scourge, she says.

“The research I have done, and articles I have had published, have been drawn from my working life as a pharmacist, to date,” says Ms McDonnell. “In pharmacy college, we were taught about addiction pharmacy and we were very much aware of our duty, as pharmacists, to inform people when dispensing products.

Codeine products, obviously, were something we had to deal with warning people about the side-effects, sedation, and also the addictive properties it had and not to use a codeine product for more than three days.

"And then, when I went out to work as a pharmacist and saw the amount of codeine products which are sold on a daily basis, it made me very aware of the issues surrounding codeine. Over-the-counter, it is in various products used for pain.”

Ms McDonnell says codeine addiction is a major worry. Codeine is an opioid medication used to control or relieve pain. It is found in many pain medications, including over-the-counter products, such as Nurofen Plus and Solpadeine.

Ms McDonnell, who is 27 and from Dublin, says: “Everything I say is observational on my experiences to date, on what I have seen with the amount of codeine sold and the regularity with which it is sold. And from speaking to pharmacist colleagues and friends, regularly, the issue of codeine use would come up.”

McDonnell wants to draw attention to the overuse of codeine.

“People can get a high on codeine and withdrawal symptoms can progress quite quickly, so this can lead to other symptoms, such as shaking, sweating, and difficulty sleeping. If the problem grows, the addiction and tolerance can grow quickly,” she says.

Because codeine is available without prescription, people regard it as something that is not too drastic and that is why I have written papers on it — not to scare-monger, but to open people’s eyes to the potential dangers of codeine.

"The opiate side of codeine can give some people ‘a buzz’. And I want to increase awareness about codeine being an opiate and the fact that it has addictive qualities.

“The big US stories we read about relate to prescription opioids. But people who take codeine can see it as different from these high-profile opiates. A lot of people who take codeine don’t know it is an opioid and don’t see it as addictive and have a notion that just because it is available over the counter, it is not addictive. But because something does not require a prescription does not mean it is not a serious drug.”

However, McDonnell says making codeine products prescription-only would put more pressure on GPs and says that making people aware of the addictive potential of codeine is crucial, as is “making people aware of other non-codeine painkillers, that are available in tackling a pain”.

More on this topic

Mid to high earners who ‘want to party’ fuel cocaine tradeMid to high earners who ‘want to party’ fuel cocaine trade

Communities severely affected: Drugs violence hits homeCommunities severely affected: Drugs violence hits home

Cocaine market worth €9.1bn yearly across EUCocaine market worth €9.1bn yearly across EU

Cormac O’Keeffe: Cocaine trade on a high as Europe is flooded with the drugCormac O’Keeffe: Cocaine trade on a high as Europe is flooded with the drug


More in this Section

Storm Atiyah: Flights cancelled, trains delayed in Cork and KerryStorm Atiyah: Flights cancelled, trains delayed in Cork and Kerry

Gardaí renew appeal for information following fatal road collisionGardaí renew appeal for information following fatal road collision

Wild Lights at Dublin Zoo cancelled due to stormWild Lights at Dublin Zoo cancelled due to storm

In pictures: The first look at Storm Atiyah as it hits IrelandIn pictures: The first look at Storm Atiyah as it hits Ireland


Lifestyle

Overshadowed by its giant neighbours it may be, but the smallest of the main Blasket islands, Beginish, is no less impressive in its own right.The Islands of Ireland: The miracle of Beginish

‘The days of our years are threescore years and ten — Psalm 90How to tell an animal’s age in a heartbeat

We often hear how nature will do well, even come back from the brink of extinction, if given a chance and some human help.Birds of prey on the rise

In our country we still have places that bear no evidence of disturbance by man, that are in their pristine state and rich with all the elements that feed the spirit and deliver us into the world beyond the skin of the time and circumstances we live in.Unique ambience of Dursey Island under threat

More From The Irish Examiner