Prescription Addiction Spotlight


Prescription Addiction

Lyndsey Telford investigates the rise in deaths from prescription drug abuse and asks why, in Northern Ireland, these drugs kill more than heroin.


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Transcript


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In Northern Ireland, prescription drugs account for

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the majority of drug-related deaths.

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The biggest killer in Great Britain is heroin.

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The biggest killer in Northern Ireland is tramadol.

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Tonight on Spotlight,

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we ask why our deadliest drugs come in blister packs

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and over the counter, and witness the impact of their misuse.

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"Please don't tell me my child is dead."

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Begging the ambulance men, "Please, try. Help, please."

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Spotlight has exclusively analysed

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more than 20 million prescription records across Northern Ireland.

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Deaths don't come as a surprise to me.

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It's surprising we probably don't have more deaths.

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We reveal how the number of prescriptions of a drug

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commonly used here has risen by nearly 50% in the last four years.

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It's a very addictive drug, very open to abuse.

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We investigate the different sources of these drugs and ask,

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is your GP your first dealer?

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I can't, you know, say that we wouldn't fall into that category.

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We certainly write the prescriptions for many of these drugs.

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And we obtain a secret dossier that claims to lay bare

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the extent of street dealing.

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You hear the word drug dealer and you think cocaine, heroin.

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It's stark to think that there's prescription drugs in their hands.

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You can never have the happiness back in your life again, can you, like?

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There they go.

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And there's his white coffin as well.

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A white coffin, he had.

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Everything was purple, purple, purple.

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Everybody wore purple.

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SHE SIGHS

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It is so sad, isn't it, to think you have to bury your child?

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Breaks my heart, so it does.

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Patricia Browne lost her 26-year-old son, Christopher,

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to prescription drugs.

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-This is a cute wee one, this wee one of him when he was small.

-Yeah.

1:39:001:39:03

-VOICE BREAKS:

-Christopher was a Man United supporter.

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You know, as well as the boxing - he loved the boxing.

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Patricia believes his problems started

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when his young girlfriend killed herself.

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Problems for Christopher just developed after that.

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You know, mental health issues.

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So when did he start taking prescription drugs?

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I would say maybe at the age of 19-20.

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But when he wanted more than his GP would give him,

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he turned to dealers online.

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It was very easy to access the diazepam on the internet.

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One day you ordered them, the next day you put the money

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in their bank account, and they would deliver it the next day.

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You know, I think it was something like 1,000 of them for £250.

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As well as diazepam, Christopher's mum says

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he was prescribed by his GP Lyrica, a common brand of pregabalin.

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It was when he started abusing Lyrica

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that Patricia saw a sharp decline.

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He didn't even know who he was, with the head down,

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dribbling his food - couldn't eat his food at the table,

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dribbling down his mouth.

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When he wasn't on drugs, he was a good kid.

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You know, he was a real lovable kid. He would give you his last.

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Mother's Day, birthdays,

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-Christmas - he just loved Christmas, so he did.

-Yeah.

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He was the first one always out doing his shopping.

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Christopher's was one of five drug deaths

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in Belfast that weekend in April.

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As they await the results of postmortem examinations,

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at this stage the police don't think any single drug

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was responsible for the deaths.

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By the end of September, the city's drug death toll had reached 37.

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While it's still unknown how many of those deaths

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involved prescription drugs,

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latest trends indicate they will form the majority.

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What is for sure is that, of those 37 Belfast deaths,

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more than half took place in the north of the city.

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DUP councillor Guy Spence represents North Belfast.

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We first met him at a community meeting, where many people were

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angry, saying the authorities were failing to tackle the drugs crisis.

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That meeting in North Belfast was called

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by the Policing and Community Safety Partnership

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on the information that drugs,

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particularly prescription drugs,

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was an increasing issue within our district, North Belfast.

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It was an opportunity for the public and members of the community,

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community leaders, to come together and to find out more.

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Feeling abandoned, the community appealed for more resources.

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I don't think there's enough outcry.

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I'm getting phone calls every day from parents begging for help.

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Drugs are very accessible.

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People can log on to the internet as if they're doing their shopping

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and get drugs delivered to your house in the post.

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We agree not to film the meeting

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as a member of the Public Prosecution Service

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wished to talk candidly off-camera.

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Afterwards, we spoke to Billy Burns, who was at the same meeting.

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A lot of people, a lot of angry people, in that room tonight.

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Basically, all we heard was

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how this is going to happen

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and this is going to happen.

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But the kids are down on the streets now. It needs to happen now.

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Billy, who lost his son to drugs,

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asked the police at the meeting about a group active on social media

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called Communities Against Death Dealers, or CADD.

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The group had compiled a dossier of allegations

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against drug dealers, submitted, it says,

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anonymously by those among its 17,000 Facebook followers.

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You raised the issue of a Facebook group

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-called Communities Against Death Dealers.

-Yes.

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They have compiled a dossier of allegations

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naming suspected, alleged drug dealers.

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It's got to the point, Lyndsey, where the community now

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have had that much anger in the community

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that they have resulted in Facebook pages coming up

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showing drug dealers,

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telling them that they are death dealers.

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CADD may have just appeared on social media,

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but Billy believes it represents the desperation

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of a community pushed to its limit by dealers.

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It's the people crying out for some help.

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They're not getting it from the PSNI or the other agencies,

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so they're hitting out themselves.

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As the CADD dossier is said to contain more than 250 allegations

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against dealers selling across the internet

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and up and down the streets of Northern Ireland,

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we want to see it for ourselves.

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At the meeting, it emerged the drug death toll of 37

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may have risen by two.

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The revelation came from coroner Joe McCrisken.

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You have ordered two investigations in the last week.

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The deaths have occurred as a result of what we think

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are prescription drug use,

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but we'll need to wait on the forensic analysis

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to be carried out to be sure.

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The deadliest of prescription drugs in Northern Ireland is tramadol,

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which kills more than Class A drugs like heroin and cocaine.

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The tramadol death rate in Great Britain has been decreasing

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over the last three years.

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In Northern Ireland, it has been increasing.

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The biggest killer in Great Britain is heroin.

1:44:141:44:18

The biggest killer per drug in Northern Ireland is tramadol.

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The dangers of tramadol misuse are well known.

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But there now worry about another prescription drug, pregabalin,

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marketed as Lyrica, according to Dr Yasir Abbasi.

1:44:301:44:34

Today, the Home Office launched

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a formal consultation on its classification.

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The Government recently suggested that pregabalin should be

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classed as a Class C substance,

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which was on the recommendation of the British Medical Association.

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I think Northern Ireland needs to be more quick

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in responding to these recommendations.

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Christopher was prescribed pregabalin in the brand form Lyrica,

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which he misused.

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Dr Abbasi was one of the first to raise concerns about pregabalin.

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If pregabalin is prescribed appropriately,

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and monitored regularly,

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then there is nothing to say that it's a dangerous drug.

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The issue that you might have with pregabalin over-prescription

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is that people, or individuals who are using it,

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being dependant or addicted to it.

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Alex Bunting from Addiction NI is equally concerned.

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We are quite clearly seeing now that it's a very addictive drug,

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very open to abuse,

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and it is being abused right across communities.

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With growing criticism around pregabalin,

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Spotlight commissioned a special piece of research.

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We have obtained a huge database of 20 million prescription records

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written by GPs across Northern Ireland over the last four years.

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We've had them analysed and can exclusively reveal a 46% rise

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in prescriptions of the drug

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that's implicated in more and more overdose deaths -

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pregabalin, or as we know, most commonly referred to as Lyrica.

1:46:081:46:13

A 46% increase in pregabalin prescription

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over the past four years is quite dramatic.

1:46:171:46:20

Um... Gosh.

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There's definitely overprescribing there.

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I guess it very much raises the question

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of the addictive potential of pregabalin,

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and the fact that this needs some urgent attention

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by the medical community.

1:46:341:46:35

On the morning we interviewed Alex Bunting,

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US President Donald Trump made this announcement...

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The federal government is aggressively fighting

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the opioid epidemic on all fronts.

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Alex blames America's crisis, and our increasing problems

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with prescription drugs, on overprescribing.

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If you look at Middle America, they have a significant problem

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with heroin and injecting drug populations

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that's all been developed from the overuse

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and overprescribing of very potent, powerful pain medication.

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If we are slightly behind that curve,

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then we are walking into the same problem.

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The SDLP's Nichola Mallon hears first hand the effects

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of addiction to prescription drugs from sufferers,

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some of whom started taking them legitimately.

1:47:221:47:25

What we see coming into my office

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is people of all ages who are addicted to prescription drugs.

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Some are addicted because they are waiting on operations

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and they're living in severe pain.

1:47:331:47:35

She believes Northern Ireland's problem with prescription drugs

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stems from a pill-sharing past in the Troubles.

1:47:401:47:43

During the conflict, and as a consequence of it,

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we in Northern Ireland have an unhealthy relationship

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with prescription drugs. Throughout the Troubles,

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it wasn't unusual for neighbours to share prescription drugs.

1:47:521:47:56

It is referred to locally as nerve tablets to try to deal with anxiety.

1:47:561:48:00

EXPLOSION RUMBLES

1:48:031:48:04

-REPORTER:

-What happened just then?

1:48:061:48:08

-WOMAN:

-That explosion there, just behind College Street.

1:48:081:48:11

Does this sort of thing happen often?

1:48:111:48:13

Very often. It does, indeed.

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And how do you feel when you hear and see

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-these explosions all around you?

-It frightens you.

1:48:161:48:18

Benzodiazepines, under the brand name Valium,

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first came to Northern Ireland 50 years ago.

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EXPLOSION

1:48:241:48:26

CHILD CRIES

1:48:261:48:28

SHE SHUSHES

1:48:281:48:30

-REPORTER:

-The doctors I met in Belfast gave me the impression

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of standing watch over a psychiatric volcano.

1:48:331:48:36

Decades later,

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and the demand for what is now known as diazepam has stabilised.

1:48:381:48:41

But our research suggests it's just being substituted

1:48:411:48:45

with something else.

1:48:451:48:46

This new drug that came in, by the name of pregabalin,

1:48:461:48:50

was considered to be a safer option.

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And they started prescribing this more, in effect,

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and so they were replacing one chemical with the other.

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And Dr Abbasi believes more research is needed to see

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if pregabalin has the same potential for addiction that diazepam has.

1:49:021:49:07

I do not question its safety profile,

1:49:071:49:09

I do question as to its potential for addiction.

1:49:091:49:15

We are seeing a drug which is marketed as a very safe drug -

1:49:151:49:17

and, again, I do not question the safety there -

1:49:171:49:20

but what is very important is we have not established

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its links to addiction.

1:49:231:49:25

And I think, in my clinical practice,

1:49:251:49:27

that there are links there.

1:49:271:49:29

Other front-line professionals are increasingly sharing this view.

1:49:291:49:34

One of Dr Michael McKenna's patients is among the 37 dead.

1:49:341:49:38

And while it's still unknown if Lyrica was involved in that case,

1:49:381:49:42

he's very worried about its impact.

1:49:421:49:44

I am becoming increasingly sceptical about its use in pain,

1:49:441:49:48

and I'm trying not to prescribe it.

1:49:481:49:50

This was heralded as a very safe drug,

1:49:501:49:52

and not addictive in any way.

1:49:521:49:55

And yet, as time goes on,

1:49:561:50:00

we see the increasing problems that it's causing.

1:50:001:50:03

We also see a drug which,

1:50:031:50:06

when used inappropriately and abused,

1:50:061:50:10

is...is extremely dangerous.

1:50:101:50:13

You know, we have seen a lot of drug-related deaths now, recently,

1:50:131:50:17

where Lyrica is showing up in the toxicology screening.

1:50:171:50:20

The day after the North Belfast meeting,

1:50:211:50:24

the Falls Community Council gives us an idea of just how many drugs,

1:50:241:50:28

including illegally-obtained prescriptions, are on the streets.

1:50:281:50:32

This is a drugs bin.

1:50:321:50:34

So what people do is, they can come in,

1:50:341:50:37

dispose of drugs in here in a safe way.

1:50:371:50:40

The PSNI then come, and they empty the bin.

1:50:401:50:43

With waiting times for addiction treatment of 6-9 months,

1:50:431:50:47

this place offers practical support to addicts and their families.

1:50:471:50:51

The PSNI weren't due to come out

1:50:511:50:53

for about another two weeks.

1:50:531:50:55

We had to phone them to come out and empty it

1:50:551:50:58

because it was actually full.

1:50:581:50:59

We literally couldn't get anything more into it.

1:50:591:51:02

So that is the amount of drugs

1:51:021:51:03

that this is helping to take off the streets.

1:51:031:51:06

But funding for the service ended last month.

1:51:061:51:10

We are in actual real danger of having to close the service here.

1:51:101:51:13

We are still waiting on word

1:51:131:51:15

to see whether we will get the funding renewed for this service.

1:51:151:51:18

And so, are you literally waiting to find out if you are getting

1:51:181:51:22

-this much-needed money?

-Yes, that is actually the point that we're at.

1:51:221:51:26

Gerry believes places like his can be the difference

1:51:261:51:29

between life and death for addicts,

1:51:291:51:31

and fears the drug death toll will only rise if they shut.

1:51:311:51:34

The number of recorded deaths through drugs

1:51:351:51:38

will be higher this year, so we actually do have a crisis.

1:51:381:51:41

With some patients becoming addicted

1:51:411:51:44

after being legally prescribed drugs as medication,

1:51:441:51:47

your GP is effectively your first dealer.

1:51:471:51:49

We put this to Dr McKenna.

1:51:491:51:52

I can't, you know, say that we wouldn't fall into that category.

1:51:521:51:56

We certainly write the prescriptions

1:51:561:51:58

for many of these drugs.

1:51:581:52:00

But with that comes a responsibility.

1:52:001:52:04

One, to be aware of what we are prescribing.

1:52:041:52:09

Two, to make our patients aware of the potential for addiction.

1:52:091:52:13

And then, three, to monitor it to ensure that

1:52:131:52:16

we can get them off the medications at an appropriate time.

1:52:161:52:20

Dr McKenna admits this approach doesn't always work.

1:52:201:52:23

He says that, on some occasions,

1:52:231:52:25

the drugs he prescribes make it to the street.

1:52:251:52:28

We know that Belfast is awash with prescription drugs.

1:52:281:52:32

With those illegally-bought prescription drugs,

1:52:321:52:35

where are they coming from?

1:52:351:52:37

There are two sources.

1:52:371:52:39

One, the internet is a big source.

1:52:391:52:42

And then, we have the prescriptions

1:52:421:52:44

that I prescribe and my colleagues prescribe,

1:52:441:52:47

which are sold on by our patients.

1:52:471:52:48

And there is an element of that that happens.

1:52:481:52:51

So you suspect that you have patients who come in here

1:52:511:52:54

and you are prescribing them drugs,

1:52:541:52:56

they are going out onto the street and selling them?

1:52:561:52:59

They are not using them themselves, they are selling them on?

1:52:591:53:02

In some instance, yes, that is happening.

1:53:021:53:06

Or they will take half for themselves

1:53:061:53:08

and sell the other half on.

1:53:081:53:09

It's a form of income for them.

1:53:091:53:11

And how many patients have you seen where you suspect them

1:53:111:53:15

to be not really using the drugs, and selling on?

1:53:151:53:19

I've certainly had one person removed from the list

1:53:191:53:22

for fraudulent misuse of medication.

1:53:221:53:26

And when did you first notice this as a phenomenon?

1:53:261:53:30

It's really only something that's been happening

1:53:301:53:33

in the last four or five years.

1:53:331:53:35

Christopher's mum, Patricia, says it's common for people

1:53:351:53:39

to stage symptoms to obtain and sell on their prescriptions.

1:53:391:53:43

It was a whole craze here as well that kids had to Google the six symptoms

1:53:431:53:46

what they needed to get Lyrica, and they got them,

1:53:461:53:48

and then they were selling them.

1:53:481:53:50

-They got them so easy off them.

-Just checking off this list?

1:53:501:53:53

Checking online what they needed,

1:53:531:53:55

and then they would have sold the tablets.

1:53:551:53:56

Some addicts deal to fund their habit,

1:53:561:53:59

but there are also dealers selling prescription drugs

1:53:591:54:02

alongside hard drugs on a bigger scale.

1:54:021:54:05

It's anger with what is seen as a failure to tackle dealers

1:54:051:54:09

that CADD uses to justify its dossier.

1:54:091:54:12

What it appears to show is the sheer scale of dealing taking place.

1:54:141:54:18

Revealed within its pages are names,

1:54:181:54:20

addresses, pictures and text exchanges

1:54:201:54:23

that can be traced to all corners of Northern Ireland.

1:54:231:54:26

It also shows that there are

1:54:261:54:28

over 30 alleged dealers seemingly pushing Lyrica.

1:54:281:54:31

But it is when it is taken with

1:54:341:54:36

a cocktail of drugs that it can be particularly dangerous.

1:54:361:54:41

Michael Hall was prescribed Lyrica

1:54:411:54:43

and began misusing it in his early 20s.

1:54:431:54:46

His parents felt helpless watching him fall deeper into his addiction.

1:54:461:54:50

His father, Robert, is haunted by one exchange.

1:54:501:54:54

And I says, "Look at the state of you - you're black."

1:54:551:54:58

And he was, like, all waxy.

1:54:581:55:00

He was just like a dead body in a coffin.

1:55:001:55:03

He says, "Daddy, I'll not do it no more, that's it finished."

1:55:041:55:07

But it wasn't.

1:55:071:55:09

His dependence got so bad,

1:55:091:55:11

his mother, Josephine, even drove him to his dealers.

1:55:111:55:14

Because, without the drugs, Michael was worse.

1:55:141:55:17

You would have taken him to get drugs because,

1:55:171:55:20

when he was on the drugs, the drugs helped him?

1:55:201:55:23

-Yes.

-When he came off them, he would have been in a bad way?

1:55:231:55:27

He would have been in a very, very bad way, shaking,

1:55:271:55:30

and, like, foaming at the mouth.

1:55:301:55:32

And what would he have been taking?

1:55:321:55:35

Um...Lyrica...and blues.

1:55:351:55:39

What, you took him out to get stuff like that?

1:55:391:55:42

I thought you told me it was only blue you were getting him.

1:55:421:55:45

I didn't know what he was getting.

1:55:451:55:46

But in April, aged 25,

1:55:481:55:51

Michael took a cocktail of drugs including Lyrica and diazepam.

1:55:511:55:55

He just kept on collapsing,

1:55:551:55:57

and he collapsed three times.

1:55:571:55:59

But I got him into bed, got his clothes off,

1:55:591:56:01

left his T-shirt and his boxers on, and put him into bed.

1:56:011:56:05

Michael had a seven-year-old son

1:56:051:56:07

and planned to see him the following day.

1:56:071:56:09

But he never woke up from his latest drug binge.

1:56:091:56:13

Michael was still warm when I found him.

1:56:131:56:15

He had fallen out of the bed

1:56:151:56:17

and looked as if he was trying to crawl to the door.

1:56:171:56:21

That's the shape he was in on the ground.

1:56:221:56:25

-As though he had been on all fours, almost?

-On all fours,

1:56:251:56:27

and his mouth was sort of stuck to the ground.

1:56:271:56:30

When you come out and you look up, do you...?

1:56:431:56:45

-Think of Michael?

-You think of him?

1:56:451:56:47

How have you been getting on?

1:56:481:56:50

Terrible.

1:56:501:56:51

I've never felt as lonely in my life.

1:56:511:56:54

I can't stick it.

1:56:571:56:59

When families lose a loved one in Northern Ireland,

1:57:091:57:12

many can end up here.

1:57:121:57:13

You work very closely with families who have been bereaved.

1:57:151:57:18

You sit at this table with them.

1:57:181:57:21

I met a family just last Friday - in fact, in this room -

1:57:211:57:27

who had lost their son as a result of Diazepam toxicity.

1:57:271:57:34

They were talking about how they had picked their son's cot for him

1:57:341:57:40

and his first buggy and his first bike,

1:57:401:57:43

and how then they had to go along and pick his coffin.

1:57:431:57:46

He also thinks more people need to be aware of the dangers of taking

1:57:461:57:50

a cocktail of prescription drugs.

1:57:501:57:52

Ten years ago, we would have seen one drug on a death certificate,

1:57:551:57:59

perhaps heroin, cocaine, ecstasy.

1:57:591:58:02

Now, we see regularly three, four, five, six -

1:58:021:58:06

mostly prescription drugs.

1:58:061:58:08

We have people who are taking what they consider to be

1:58:081:58:11

small levels of prescription medications,

1:58:111:58:15

but all those drugs are all building up to do one thing,

1:58:151:58:18

which is cause unconsciousness and then death.

1:58:181:58:21

He warns that when a person overdoses on prescription drugs,

1:58:211:58:25

they don't look like they're dying.

1:58:251:58:27

What we hear sometimes during an inquest is that

1:58:291:58:31

a person was snoring.

1:58:311:58:33

They are kind of displaying signs of being intoxicated.

1:58:331:58:35

People think, well, someone is intoxicated with alcohol,

1:58:351:58:39

put them to bed and they will sleep it off.

1:58:391:58:41

You don't sleep off, normally, drug toxicity.

1:58:411:58:45

You die, if you don't receive treatment.

1:58:451:58:48

The effects of prescription drug misuse are not just

1:58:501:58:52

a threat to addicts,

1:58:521:58:54

but frequently a source of real danger

1:58:541:58:56

to those who stand between them and their habit.

1:58:561:58:59

Over a career, I have been held up 11 times.

1:58:591:59:02

Terry Maguire, the pharmacist of two of the 37 who died

1:59:021:59:05

from drugs overdoses, is on that front line.

1:59:051:59:08

I had the point of a knife inserted into my nostril.

1:59:081:59:11

There was a gun produced.

1:59:111:59:13

And it was the first time

1:59:131:59:15

that I really felt my life threatened, in a sense.

1:59:151:59:17

Christopher, Michael and three others died on the same weekend.

1:59:171:59:21

Also at that time, two of Terry's nearby colleagues were attacked

1:59:211:59:25

with knives, for prescription drugs.

1:59:251:59:27

-REPORTER:

-The two staff who were stabbed,

1:59:271:59:29

were both pharmacists in the shop.

1:59:291:59:31

That reflects the degree of violence which we are increasingly seeing

1:59:311:59:36

from people who are robbing pharmacies.

1:59:361:59:38

Terry may be shocked by the escalating violence

1:59:381:59:41

around prescription drugs, but not by the deaths

1:59:411:59:44

of two of his patients.

1:59:441:59:45

Was death something that you genuinely anticipated?

1:59:451:59:49

Were you surprised?

1:59:491:59:51

I very much appreciate the dangers of misusing drugs

1:59:511:59:54

and therefore deaths don't come as a surprise to me,

1:59:541:59:57

they are tragic, but they aren't a surprise.

1:59:572:00:00

It is surprising we probably don't have more deaths.

2:00:002:00:03

Despite the violence and the deaths,

2:00:072:00:09

Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton describes CADD's dossier

2:00:092:00:12

as counter-productive.

2:00:122:00:13

Their actions are entirely unhelpful.

2:00:152:00:16

They are, in many instances, I believe,

2:00:162:00:18

potentially frustrating either ongoing police investigations

2:00:182:00:22

or future police action

2:00:222:00:23

because they are alerting people to the fact

2:00:232:00:25

that there may be an awareness of their activities.

2:00:252:00:27

He says naming suspects endangers them.

2:00:292:00:32

The PSNI has a responsibility to anyone who they believe

2:00:342:00:37

is subject to a threat, to take action

2:00:372:00:39

in order, obviously, to protect them from any perceived threat.

2:00:392:00:42

So, what that does, in my view, is tie up police resources.

2:00:422:00:45

I'll, first of all, formally welcome

2:00:472:00:49

everyone here this morning.

2:00:492:00:50

Last month, Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey launched

2:00:502:00:54

an unofficial inquiry into the drugs epidemic in West Belfast.

2:00:542:00:58

We had what has been described as a "spike"

2:00:582:01:00

in the number of people who were losing their lives

2:01:002:01:03

to the scourge of drugs.

2:01:032:01:04

Whether that was the opioids,

2:01:042:01:06

as they call it, or the misuse of prescription drugs.

2:01:062:01:09

One of the many issues it hopes to address is repeated calls

2:01:092:01:13

from the community to see dealers jailed, not bailed.

2:01:132:01:17

There has been criticism against the PSNI,

2:01:172:01:20

and there has been criticisms against what people call

2:01:202:01:22

the revolving doors in the Magistrates' Courts and so on,

2:01:222:01:25

where people are walking away with lenient sentences and so on.

2:01:252:01:28

All of that is in the mix.

2:01:282:01:29

When at least 37 have died in just nine months, in Belfast alone,

2:01:342:01:38

some believe a key message support workers must teach

2:01:382:01:42

is simply how to take drugs safely.

2:01:422:01:45

Because what we are talking about is people taking drugs...

2:01:452:01:49

And, as you know, we live in the real world,

2:01:492:01:52

people are taking drugs.

2:01:522:01:53

So this is where we talk about making it safer.

2:01:532:01:56

This training at the Falls Community Council gives practical help to mums

2:01:562:02:01

from a community on the edge.

2:02:012:02:03

See, if you are going to use, this is what you need to know.

2:02:032:02:05

The reality is, this is what could happen.

2:02:052:02:07

We're back to hear if Sharon's boss got the funding for the centre.

2:02:072:02:11

The last time we were here, Gerry McConville

2:02:112:02:13

was sitting waiting by the phone.

2:02:132:02:15

-Has that call come through?

-No, that call hasn't come through.

2:02:152:02:18

The frustrating thing for the community

2:02:182:02:21

is that the little help there is on the ground is at risk.

2:02:212:02:23

I know that some of the families that we've worked with,

2:02:232:02:26

it has saved someone's life.

2:02:262:02:28

Most people say to us, "I didn't know that this place existed."

2:02:282:02:31

And the reason, probably, for some of that is because people...

2:02:312:02:34

We see a lot of people when they're in crisis.

2:02:342:02:36

This was exactly the situation

2:02:362:02:38

that Josephine and Robert were in with Michael.

2:02:382:02:40

In crisis, but unable to find help.

2:02:402:02:43

No matter who I phoned for help, um, I never got help.

2:02:452:02:49

People give you these numbers to phone

2:02:502:02:53

and you phone and the phone rings off or they'll get back to you -

2:02:532:02:57

they never do.

2:02:572:02:58

Lyndsey, this is Michael's room.

2:02:582:03:00

And this is...down here...

2:03:052:03:07

I found Michael...

2:03:072:03:08

..dead here.

2:03:112:03:12

But it's what the dealers who sold her son prescription drugs

2:03:122:03:16

did to him to ensure payment that also haunts Josephine today.

2:03:162:03:20

The beatings Michael took, the scarring on his body,

2:03:212:03:24

was out of this world.

2:03:242:03:25

And he was at Divis flats and they got a boiling kettle

2:03:262:03:30

and poured it over him.

2:03:302:03:31

And it was that coat that saved him.

2:03:312:03:33

It was... His stomach was burnt and his arm was burnt.

2:03:352:03:37

But he told me it was this hot water bottle and that hot water bottle...

2:03:372:03:42

There's fur over that, so how could he have got burnt?

2:03:422:03:45

Like Michael, for Christopher, dealers were his downfall.

2:03:482:03:51

Can you take me back to the Sunday night...when you last saw him?

2:03:522:03:58

Me and him sat talking.

2:03:582:03:59

He told me that day he was going to try to go off prescription drugs.

2:03:592:04:02

I know he left. He went to the Dublin Road.

2:04:022:04:05

He met his death there.

2:04:052:04:07

Patricia believes her son's final drug deal was done

2:04:072:04:09

in the centre of Belfast.

2:04:092:04:11

He went behind a wall, where he met his death, really.

2:04:132:04:17

And the deal was done in five minutes.

2:04:172:04:19

I'll never forget my sister-in-law coming here to get me

2:04:192:04:21

and I remember just squealing at her,

2:04:212:04:23

"Please, don't tell me my child is dead!"

2:04:232:04:25

And she kept saying, "They're working on him,

2:04:252:04:28

"they're working on him."

2:04:282:04:29

Begging the ambulance men, "Please, try... Help, please."

2:04:292:04:33

And they were saying, no, he was dead.

2:04:332:04:35

You hear the word "drug dealer" and you think - cocaine, heroin.

2:04:402:04:43

It's stark to think that there's prescription drugs in their hands.

2:04:432:04:47

Guy Spence is appalled by how many dealers now

2:04:472:04:50

peddle prescription drugs, but he is also shocked

2:04:502:04:53

by our figures that highlight the growing prescribing

2:04:532:04:56

of pregabalin, or Lyrica...

2:04:562:04:58

It's my generation

2:04:582:04:59

who is going to be affected by the use of these drugs,

2:04:592:05:02

moving forward.

2:05:022:05:03

..and, as a result, is calling for serious change.

2:05:032:05:07

I do think that the parameters for prescribing drugs

2:05:072:05:10

within the whole of the UK needs to be reassessed and reconsidered,

2:05:102:05:15

taking into account the effects of Lyrica.

2:05:152:05:18

Pfizer, which devised Lyrica,

2:05:182:05:20

told us the drug was found to be...

2:05:202:05:24

..for neuropathic pain, epilepsy and anxiety.

2:05:242:05:28

It said it had updated its labelling for Lyrica in 2014,

2:05:282:05:31

following a European review, and products carry warnings

2:05:312:05:34

about the risk of dependence, misuse or abuse in patients

2:05:342:05:38

with a history of substance abuse.

2:05:382:05:40

It said it would take part in the Home Office consultation

2:05:402:05:44

over plans to classify pregabalin as a Class C drug.

2:05:442:05:47

It is absolutely essential that, within Northern Ireland,

2:05:472:05:51

this review takes place because there is a quite dramatic increase

2:05:512:05:55

in the prescription of those medications.

2:05:552:05:57

In a statement, The Health and Social Care Board said it,

2:05:572:06:00

"recognises we have an issue that..."

2:06:002:06:02

It said, "There is an onus on GPs to prescribe drugs in accordance

2:06:052:06:09

"with symptoms reported by the patient.

2:06:092:06:12

"And while that relationship could be exploited,

2:06:122:06:15

"GPs are aware of the risks and exercise diligence."

2:06:152:06:18

It said it, "regularly monitors prescribing" and it has made calls

2:06:182:06:21

"for consideration to be given to more stringent controls

2:06:212:06:24

"over supply of the drug and its classification."

2:06:242:06:28

Deirdre Lennon lost her 19-year-old son

2:06:302:06:32

to a cocktail of prescription drugs two years ago.

2:06:322:06:34

Coamhan's death prompted the then coroner to say

2:06:382:06:41

he was increasingly concerned about toxic combinations

2:06:412:06:44

of prescription drugs.

2:06:442:06:46

-Can you actually see Coamhan's grave from here?

-Yeah, Lyndsey.

2:06:502:06:53

Every morning, Deirdre is confronted by Coamhan's memory.

2:06:532:06:57

See, one, two, three

2:06:582:07:00

-four, five, six down?

-Mm.

2:07:002:07:02

It's the middle grave, with the Bible on it and Our Lady.

2:07:022:07:06

As soon as I open my eyes in the morning...

2:07:062:07:09

Now, her only surviving son is fighting

2:07:102:07:13

his own addiction to drugs like Lyrica.

2:07:132:07:16

When we meet her,

2:07:162:07:18

she says she believes that he has not used for two weeks.

2:07:182:07:21

He's just...he's just existing.

2:07:212:07:24

I mean, um...

2:07:242:07:27

Rarely goes out. Never leaves the room.

2:07:272:07:29

It's just in my mind that I'm going to find him the same way,

2:07:292:07:33

if he doesn't stop the tablets.

2:07:332:07:34

And do you ever worry that...?

2:07:352:07:38

Yeah, every day.

2:07:382:07:40

Every day and every night. You just...

2:07:402:07:43

Cos you don't know the minute.

2:07:432:07:44

Just hoping and praying.

2:07:442:07:46

And I pray every day

2:07:462:07:47

that it doesn't happen again.

2:07:472:07:49

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