Ireland on verge of codeine addiction epidemic

Available over the counter in pharmacies
  • Deborah Condon

Codeine addiction in Ireland is ‘an epidemic verging on eruption', according to a new report in the Irish Medical Journal (IMJ).

Codeine is an opioid medication which helps to control or relieve pain. It is found in many pain medications, including over-the-counter products such as Solpadeine and Nurofen Plus.

However, codeine is very addictive and is a ‘highly abused substance in Ireland', according to trainee doctor, Emma McDonnell, of the University of Limerick.

Writing in the IMJ, she noted that codeine addiction ‘is often hidden under the guise of pain management, going unaddressed by both doctor and patient'.

Ms McDonnell pointed out that many patients are unaware of just how addictive codeine can be. Even after short-term use, withdrawal symptoms can include nausea, constipation, insomnia and anxiety.

She argues that one reason for the increase in codeine abuse here is the ease with which it can be purchased. She notes that while Ireland has a high number of pharmacies, it has a ‘lower number of pharmacists per pharmacy, which could mean they have less time for patient consultations due to a high workload'.

Meanwhile, ‘codeine shopping', which is the practice of travelling to different pharmacies to purchase codeine, is also an issue.

Ms McDonnell suggests that one way of reducing codeine usage in Ireland is by changing its classification. It is currently classed as schedule 5 under the Controlled Drug Regualtions, which means it is available over the counter in pharmacies.

"The problem of self-medicating with codeine could possibly be reduced to some extent if the drug's legal status was changed to prescription only, as has been done recently in Australia and Italy, removing the possibility of its availability over the counter in pharmacies and reducing its relative ease of procurement," she explained.

However, she also warned that little progress can be made in this area until this issue is ‘fully acknowledged and necessary research is conducted'.

"At present, there is scarce literature available on the topic in Ireland. Codeine addiction is an epidemic verging on eruption and should be recognised now," Ms McDonnell added.


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