Saira Khan: Stop doctors creating a nation of addicts
Every generation seems to battle a new drug epidemic.
We’ve seen heroin, cocaine, cannabis and ketamine destroying lives, leaving scars. But the latest addiction quietly taking hold is different.
Because it’s one that doctors are feeding.
And while everyone has been busy panicking about GPs overprescribing antibiotics, no one has noticed how painkillers — opioids — are being churned out.
I have taken painkillers for things like period pain and, more recently, muscle pain for Dancing on Ice.
I do believe that sometimes you have to work through the pain for the body to heal properly. But when it affects quality of life, then we do need to turn to GPs.
And to trust they know what is best for us.
This week on Loose Women, Janet Street-Porter opened up about being prescribed painkillers after a knee operation.
She was given 56 dihydrocodeine tablets and could take up to eight a day.
Plus she had the antidepressant amitriptyline, which gave her “dreadful anxiety dreams”.
She said: “All this medication was meant to make me feel better but actually I felt tearful and stoned.”
It took her weeks to scale it down.
An older relative of mine has arthritis and is in constant pain.
I’d never taken much notice of what she was being prescribed, but I had noticed her never-ending trips to her GP and chemist for tablets.
I always thought the doctor knew best and never questioned it or asked how she felt.
I now fear she could be well on her way to being addicted to painkillers.
The US has been battling an opioid epidemic since the 1990s.
Last year, the city of Los Angeles even filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical firms for deceptive marketing and sale, accusing them of exaggerating the benefits of opioids and downplaying risks.
We need to wake up to the fact that the problem is getting a grip here and devastating lives.
Anyone on your street could be an addict. You don’t need to hang around dodgy bars or surf the dark net to get a fix. You just pop your repeat prescription in.
Opioids have two effects — they relieve pain and make you euphoric. So you feel like you’re safe and on a fluffy cloud.
The trend for prescribing them is on the rise, especially in deprived areas.
The number of deaths linked to one called fentanyl shot up by almost a third in the UK in a year. Fentanyl can be up to 100 times stronger than heroin.
With an ageing population, and aches and pains getting worse, we could end up with a generation of geriatric junkies.
But anyone can get hooked.
Celebs including Prince, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger and Brittany Murphy died after being addicted to painkillers.
Life can be painful and tough — and who wouldn’t want to make it better by popping a pill?
Our GPs are trained to make patients feel better as quickly as possible, so in the time and system they operate in, painkillers are the easiest answer.
But some studies even show that for long-term back pain, these drugs are no better than a placebo.
So as painful as it might be, we need to deal with this problem now. And tell GPs to rein it in.
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