A rapid influx is seen in the cases of abuse and addiction, related to opioids in the UK. The spike in this trend is upsetting as the number of deaths related to opioids such as codeine doubled in 2020 as compared to the last ten years. In 2020, 222 deaths were reported related to codeine which is a stark rise compared to 91 deaths reported a decade ago.
This sudden increase can be attributed to the fact that opioid prescriptions have increased by many folds in the UK. According to BBC News investigation, general practitioners (GPs) in England prescribed nearly 24 million opioid-based painkillers in 2017, which is equivalent to 2,700 items prescribed every hour. Along with the prescription for opioids, the number of addicts has also risen, hinting that there is a certain linkage between the increase in opioid prescription and the number of opioid addicts and related deaths.
Owing to the addictive property of opioids with the potential for dependency and overdose, opioids including codeine are available as prescription medications only since their sales are strictly regulated by the authorities in the UK. However, opioids such as codeine when formulated with analgesics such as ibuprofen and paracetamol are available as over-the-counter medications for mild to moderate pain relief. These over-the-counter medications and the sale of codeine and other opioids sourced through the black web have been the reason for the alarming rise in the cases of opioid addiction and abuse.
Co-codamol is a similar analgesic that has codeine and paracetamol combined. It is available both as an over-the-counter and as a prescription medication. Initially, co-codamol was regarded as medicine with minimal potential for addiction but as the trend of misuse of co-codamol is on the rise the opinion has changed making co-codamol one of the drugs with significant addiction potential if not used as per physician’s recommendation. The addiction potential of co-codamol is exacerbated if it is used concomitantly with other CNS depressants including sedatives and alcohol among others resulting in a heightened risk of overdose and death.
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