Hooked on Pills; 50 Years after the Death of Monroe, Nation in Grip of a Prescription Drugs Epidemic

Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales), August 5, 2012 | Go to article overview

Hooked on Pills; 50 Years after the Death of Monroe, Nation in Grip of a Prescription Drugs Epidemic


Byline: JULIA McWATT

WHEN Marilyn Monroe died 50 years ago today, with a bottle of sleeping pills at her side, it marked the tragic end of one of the big screen's greatest icons.

But five decades on and experts have warned the growing problem of prescription drug addiction continues to claim high-profile deaths, as well as blighting lives throughout Wales.

Drug charities and services have recently reported a worrying rise in the number of people struggling with addiction to certain classes of prescription drugs, and have raised concerns about the lack of support available.

Monroe was found dead in the bedroom of her Los Angeles home on August 5, 1962, with a bottle of sleeping pills by her side.

Her death was ruled to be "acute barbiturate poisoning" and listed as "probable suicide" although investigators have since said it was more likely to have been accidental.

More recently, the deaths of celebrities such as Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson and Brittany Murphy have also all been linked to prescription drugs.

Although charities say that most cases they are aware of are using prescription drugs for a high rather than self-harm, there is concern that this abuse could be extremely damaging to their health and are highly addictive.

Martin Blakebrough, chief executive of Newport-based drugs support agency Kaleidoscope, said: "Even though they may be prescribed by GPs legally, prescription drugs can and are still a problem to many patients as they are often perceived to be safe. "We try to make sure people have supervised consumption of these drugs but it's not easy and people can be pretty creative if they want to get hold of them.

"One of the problems is that when you go to the GP you expect a prescription and I think GPs may sometimes be doing the easy thing by writing out a prescription. Doctors have a responsibility to say no to these people. It's a complicated issue but things like antidepressants appear to be given out too easily when sometimes dealing with issues with drugs is not the answer."

Statistics released in 2010 revealed a 73% rise in the number of men in Wales and England who had died as a result of drug poisoning involving benzodiazepines, with an 82% increase in women.

Janet Roberts, of Welsh drug helpline Dan 24/7, said: "In respect to the calls we get to the helpline people who are abusing prescription drugs seem to be buying them on the street.

"With drugs like valium or benzodiazepines, people may start by taking one a day, then think that's not working so they will take two, and so on.

"For some of these people they then come into contact with groups of people like drug dealers who they never envisaged themselves with. They may just be desperate for some codeine but they are talking to the same people selling heroin.

"They then have a big problem, but where do they go for help? They are unlikely to go back to their GPs, so it's difficult to get support."

Dr David Bailey, chairman of the BMA's Welsh GP Committee, said although there were certain telltale signs in some patients, abuse of prescription drugs was a real issue faced by GPs.

He said: "Prescription drug abuse is a big issue for us as doctors, with things like benzodiazepines always a cause for concern. Codeine is also one of the most used ones rather than anti-inflammatory drugs and ventolin is often used for people to get high which is difficult as it is prescribed for respiratory disease, which is quite prevalent in Wales. Things like sleeping pills are often sold on and tramadol and codeine have a street value.

"You are always suspicious if someone come in and asks for certain drugs and GPs are aware of it 99% of the time. It's quite difficult to prove that somebody is abusing drugs when they can act quite convincing.

It can be very difficult to judge. GPs are more aware of these things, but people who abuse drugs can be imaginative and come up with lies to get a prescription. …

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