A woman battling codeine addiction has told how she took more than 100 tablets a week.
The 22-year-old from south Belfast, who asked to remain anonymous, said her life was almost ruined after becoming hooked on the common over-the-counter painkiller.
At the age of 17 the woman, who worked as a full time carer and had a history of drug abuse, was prescribed pain relief for endometriosis.
After a short time she began topping up her prescription with extra strength painkillers bought from local pharmacies.
At the height of her addiction which lasted almost five years, the woman claimed she could “easily” have gone through 24 tablets in a single day.
“I was literally eating the painkillers. I was going backwards and forwards to the doctors and making up stories why I needed more tablets. I was able to go to different chemists and buy tablets.
“I would easily have gone through 100 tablets a week. I was a full time carer for my grandmother and after I lost her it spiralled out of control. It was ridiculous.
Yesterday the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced that tighter controls would be placed on sales of codeine, in a bid to minimise the risk of addiction and over use.
The agency, which ensures medicines are safe for public use, took action on the pharmacy sales after concerns were raised about the dangers of patients becoming addicted, or taking it for too long.
Added the Belfast woman: “I am only 22 and look like I am 42.”
According to the most recent figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency of the 1,984 individuals who presented for drug addiction, 2% (48) cited codeine and paracetamol as their main drug of misuse.
Dr Clare Armstrong, director of the Northern Ireland Community Addiction Service, said her organisation had seen an increase in the number of people abusing codeine. She said: “It is a powerful drug and we would have clients who use it — particularly in the older group. It is important that it is regulated.”
Meanwhile Raymond Anderson, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland said the new regulations were ‘precautionary’.
“I also want to reassure the public that there is no immediate recall of codeine medicines. These changes are precautionary.”