Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

The pressure on GPs, by drug addict doctor

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A GP who became addicted to morphine while coping with a huge workload has urged fellow doctors to admit their own frailty and seek help if they need it.

Dr Liam Farrell, from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, has since recovered from his addiction and is a leading columnist for medical publications.

The University College Dublin-educated doctor recalled that he became addicted when he was on duty as a GP every second night, working as a postgraduate tutor in palliative care and was a columnist for four journals.

"GPs are put in positions of immense responsibility and trust and we are under pressure daily to live up to that trust. Sometimes it can be very difficult," he said.

Dr Farrell was among the speakers at the first major meeting of the National Association of General Practitioners in the Republic.

Dr Farrell first started using morphine in 1998 and relapsed in 2007. In December 2009, Dr Farrell pleaded guilty to two counts of theft in 2007 of diamorphine, a form of heroin, and cyclimorph, and two counts of possessing the class A drugs.

It came to light when doctors at Crossmaglen Health Centre noticed 12 ampoules of the class A drugs missing.

His regulatory body, the UK's General Medical Council, regarded his addiction as a health issue and he was reviewed every six months.

He was also no longer allowed to prescribe strong opiates, which he welcomed because it kept him at a distance from the drug.

He said his relapse in 2007 was his own fault and he was suspended from practising for three months.

One of the conditions was that he could not visit homes where there were any kind of opiates, which made it very difficult as most households have some kind of over-the-counter product.

He remains eligible to work as a doctor but has left medicine and now concentrates on writing.

Dr Farrell thought at the time that he would be destroyed personally and professionally, but he points out that doctors who are addicts have a very high recovery rate.

He believed alcohol dependence is a much bigger problem than opiate misuse among doctors but it is more difficult to diagnose.

BACKGROUND

Dr Liam Farrell admitted stealing diamorphine, a form of heroin, and cyclimorph from his Crossmaglen surgery in 2007.

The court heard he stole the drugs for his own private use.

Farrell, who is well-known for his media columns on medical issues, was given a six-month sentence suspended for 18 months.

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