Prescription drug addiction 'to overtake heroin use' in UK

Rehab provider says admissions for prescription and over-the-counter drugs up 22 per cent

Katie Forster
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 07 June 2017 17:35 BST
Prescriptions for Valium have increased by 20 per cent since 2000
Prescriptions for Valium have increased by 20 per cent since 2000 (Rex Features)

The number of people addicted to legal medicines is overtaking those struggling with heroin abuse, a leading rehab provider has warned.

The company, which runs six addiction treatment centres across the country, said admissions for prescription and over-the-counter drugs had risen by 22 per cent in the last two years.

Around 65 per cent of patients at UK Addiction Treatment Centres (UKAT) have problems with legal substances, from alcohol to common painkillers such as codeine.

In the last six months, the rehab company admitted 48 people for addiction to codeine or benzodiazepines – the class of drugs that includes valium – compared to 26 for cannabis and 17 for gambling, reported The Mirror.

A lack of awareness around the addictive properties of these drugs along with the fact they are cheap and legal makes addiction difficult to spot, said Eytan Alexander, UKAT’s founder.

"GPs need to make people aware of the addictive nature of these drugs and fully explain the risks of becoming addicted to them,” he told MailOnline.

“Opiates prescribed for pain can be very addictive. Codeine, diazepam, benzos, tramadol are all causing problems. People even come to us for for help getting off zopiclone used for insomnia.”

Almost one in three drugs overdoses in Europe were recorded in the UK, according to an annual report from the European Drugs Agency.

The Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction expressed concern about a rise in drug overdose deaths in 2016 for the third consecutive year.

It also warned that potent new synthetic opioids that mimic the effects of heroin and morphine are a growing health threat in the European Union.

Young people are exposed to increasing numbers of new and dangerous drugs, according to the agency. They include powerful synthetic opioids that are now also available as liquids and nasal sprays.

“With only small volumes needed to produce many thousands of street doses, new synthetic opioids are easy to conceal and transport, posing a challenge for drug control agencies and a potentially attractive commodity for organised crime,” the European Drug Report said.

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