Cries of ‘nanny state!’ greet the new regulations on the sale of codeine this week, echoing the response of many to the smoking ban when it was introduced. We got used to that pretty quickly though; those who wanted to smoke kept smoking, and those who didn’t now had the choice to be surrounded by smoke or not (hurray!). We will probably get used to these new codeine regulations just as quickly – because if you are not abusing codeine, you will not have any problems in accessing it.
Most of us know that codeine, morphine and heroin all come from opium, and have similar effects on the body. We know that codeine and morphine are useful medicines when used properly, and we might even know that heroin was once widely used for medicinal purposes without people becoming addicted to it.
Addiction to legal drugs has become a huge problem in Ireland. Whether it’s valium, xanax, dalmane, solpadeine, codinex, methadone or cough syrup, some people depend on their prescribed or self-prescribed medication to get through the day, reaching for it first thing in the morning and topping up throughout the day. There is often a mistaken belief that if it’s not illegal, it can’t be harmful. In fact, sometimes it’s harder to admit to being dependent on a legal drug because so many people use them without problems (although in reality, the same is true for many illegal drugs – see reference below) and help is less readily available.
The intentions behind the new regulation seem to be raising awareness of the nature and strength of codeine-based products, and to spot and maybe intervene with people who may be dependent, or becoming dependent on over-the-counter drugs. Any pharmacist will tell you that they recognise regular codeine-consumers, and they are aware that some shop around to sustain their dependencies. At least now they may be able to open discussions on what a person really needs – pain relief – or help.
No drug is inherently addictive. People become dependent on drugs because of what the drugs do for them. Escape, pleasure, numbness, stimulation – that’s what drug-dependent people are looking for – the drug is just the vehicle to get them there.
For more information on addiction and situation see: http://www.parl.gc.ca/37/1/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/ille-e/presentation-e/alexender-e.htm or our earlier posts ‘rat park’ and ‘addiction and stimulation’.
For help with dependence on any kind of drug, contact your GP or a qualified counsellor or psychotherapist. You will be taken seriously. Help is available.
Note: potential side effects of codeine include constipation, sedation, nausea, headache, dizziness, itch, vertigo, dry mouth, vomiting, confusion, urinary retention, tolerance and dependence.