Black market in prescription drugs sparks new fears
There are fears that potentially dangerous prescription-only drugs are in circulation on the black market in Northern Ireland.
The discovery was made public following an investigation by the Department of Health's Medicines Regulatory Group.
It is thought that the drugs were taken out of the legitimate supply chain and have made their way on to the streets.
Recently the Public Health Agency (PHA) warned that using drugs which have not been prescribed can result in death or permanent health damage.
Among the prescription-only medicines understood to be in circulation are tramadol capsules which are often used for moderate to severe pain.
It also includes diazepam tablets which are used to treat anxiety, co-codamol tablets which are an analgesic drug which contains codeine and paracetamol.
Also included are zolpidem and zopiclone tablets which are used to treat insomnia.
Professor Mike Mawhinney, head of the Medicines Regulatory Group, issued a warning of the potential dangers.
He said: "I would urge the public to be vigilant and ensure that they do not put their health at risk by purchasing medication from an illicit source.
"The medicines involved are potent and are subject to abuse.
"People should take medicines in consultation with their healthcare professionals who have access to patient health records, who are qualified to assess their medical needs and can take into account the risks and benefits associated with every medicine."
He added: "We would ask the public to report to the Medicines Regulatory Group or the PSNI any incidences where they have been offered any medicines from an unregulated source."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "We are unable to comment further on the nature of the diversion from the legitimate supply due to ongoing investigation."
Drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act and Regulations attract additional penalties for illegal possession and supply.
The PHA has warned that the effects of taking non-prescribed drugs can be unpredictable.
"The PHA is stressing that users can never be exactly sure of the make-up of illicit drugs. PHA is also warning that many people are misusing prescription drugs," the agency said.
"The message is clear – the only way to avoid all risks is to not take any drugs which have not been prescribed for you by your doctor."
* Tramadol is used to treat moderate to severe pain.
* Diazepam is used to treat anxiety and included in the Misuse of Drugs Regulations (NI) 2002.
* Zolpidem is a non-benzodiazapine sleeping drug, and is included in the Misuse of Drugs Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002.
* Zopiclone is also a sleeping preparation.