Doctors overprescribing painkillers are being blamed for Ireland’s current drug crisis. Latest figures show that the number of patients on antidepressants and tranquillisers is at its highest level in 10 years. Statistics from the Medicines Management Programme (MMP) show that one in 10 are popping an array of prescription sedatives, sleeping tablets, antidepressants and painkillers: all of which can have serious side effects. Prescriptions for Pregabalin, which is known as the new Valium, have increased by 1000% among medical card holders in the country.

Professor Michael Barry of the MMP warned: “We have a huge problem. Many of these drugs have significant side effects. This is a patient safety issue and obviously an expenditure issue as we are spending a lot of money on them.”

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny said the overuse of prescription drugs was a ‘silent killer’ in Irish society. “People are being prescribed drugs where other alternatives can be given. I don’t think we know the half of it”, he said. “These are opiate-based drugs that are highly addictive and will kill you.” Mr Kenny is of the opinion that medicinal cannabis should be an option as it is very efficient for pain relief and has few side effects.

Dr Emmet Kerin of the National Association of General Practitioners agreed there had been a stark escalation in the prescribing of very addictive drugs. Growing waiting lists were partly to blame. Dr Kerin gave the example of a person awaiting knee replacement surgery. The longer the patient has to wait for surgery whilst in chronic pain, the longer they will be on opioids. However, he warned against patients stopping any medication. Some people do need the drugs they have been prescribed. Anyone concerned is advised to consult their GP.

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