Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Enhanced addiction services are crucial

Statistics show that prescription drugs - which many feel are safe - can also be deadly if misused. (PA)
Statistics show that prescription drugs - which many feel are safe - can also be deadly if misused. (PA)

Most people, when they think about drug abuse, imagine the misuse of substances such as cocaine, ecstasy or heroin.

But statistics show that prescription drugs - which many feel are safe - can also be deadly if misused.

In 2017, 118 of the 136 drug deaths recorded listed one or more of three prescribed medications. These are safe if taken as advised by a doctor for a specific condition, but often they are taken with other substances such as alcohol or illegal drugs.

Today we feature a heart-rending interview with the father of a 27-year-old man who died on Sunday from an accidental overdose of a prescribed drug and alcohol.

Hearing the news of his son's death was "like the Reaper has just come to your door and stabbed you through the heart", he said.

That description is one which far too many people here can empathise with in recent times.

In the decade from 2006 to 2016 there were 842 drug-related deaths.

Coroner Joe McCrisken was so moved by the grim toll that he took part in an event at Feile an Phobail in 2017 to warn about the dangers of prescribed drugs.

Tramadol had killed more people than heroin, and fentanyl had killed more people than cocaine and ecstasy combined.

At a time when a conversation is taking place on whether to legalise drugs such as cannabis, it should be noted that the young man who died at the weekend had experimented with such substances in his teens, leaving his father concerned that he could graduate to other, harder drugs because of his addictive personality.

Just recently there was the tragic case in Belfast of two sisters who died three weeks apart - one through the use of illegal drugs and other from prescription drugs.

Society is often unsympathetic to those who suffer addiction problems, but unless one walks in the shoes of the addict it is impossible to know how intense the hold of their addiction really is.

They need help, not rejection.

Services for those in the grip of addiction are inadequate by common consent.

But the problems of the health service may also exacerbate drug abuse as those on waiting lists are prescribed more drugs to control their condition until they reach the top of the queue. Some may abuse those drugs with deadly consequences.

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