The "super high" of prescription drug abuse

  • prescription painkillers
    Prescription drug abuse

Where is your prescription painkiller ending up?

NHS and Veterinary prescription drugs are increasingly ending up on the streets of the UK and being widely abused in combination with other drugs including class A and B street drugs. "Ask any teenager about Ketamine?" suggests Mike Garside, Director of UK DrugTesting. They'll tell you exactly what it does as a party or festival drug. They won't know its a veterinary anaesthetic used to tranquilise horses.

The NHS has adapted to trends in prescription drug abuse over the last 20 years. Many of the older prescription painkillers have been restricted or even removed from the national formulary. 

Replacing these have been the modern substitute drugs, perceived as safer and less likely to be abused and with fewer side effects and overdose risks. In reality, this perception has led to a reduced surveillance of their use, particularly in the elderly and increasingly the often overlooked use in veterinary practice.

Chances are if your dog needs a painkiller it will be prescribed Tramadol. Often 10-14 days are supplied, most of which do not end up being required. The rise of Tramadol abuse on the streets of the UK has risen rapidly over the last 10 years. "Not many people realise they are being supplied a powerful opiate agonist painkiller," said Kate Garside, Director of UK Drug Testing and an ex GP. These drugs are increasingly being scheduled, as the abuse becomes recognised and recorded.

These pills are being sold on and end up on the streets. Some are being obtained deceptively as a source of income, some are just being shared in family groups and leach out into general supply. And it's not just Tramadol, Oxycodone, gabapentin pregabalin, fentanyl and ketamine. All drugs you may not have heard of, but chances are, may have been prescribed to a family member or pet for a range of chronic conditions, including pain relief.

Theft from pharmacies and vets is another source of supply. There is no reliable up to date data on just how common these drugs are. Most studies are already historic by the time of publishing, and in the world of drug abuse, supply is dynamic and immediate. 

While nobody has been screening for these drugs, no reliable tests had been developed. Abuse grew, effectively under the radar of both healthcare and enforcement agencies. 

In the last 12 months, driven principally by requests from the criminal justice agencies, the biotechnology has finally caught up, with screening tests for point of care or instant testing for both new psychoactive substances and modern painkillers.

Earlier this year UK Drug Testing introduced a new 16 panel drug testing cup which included tests for most of the new prescription painkillers in addition to the more traditional street drug groups. "we expected these to sell to the prisons and drugs teams" said Kathy Calvert, the UK trade and NHS manager for UKDrugTesting. "what we found is they are selling to individuals, wanting the most comprehensive test available" 

With the rapid growth in the abuse of these groups of drugs, it makes sense to include them in any new testing program, especially for safety-critical employment roles such as construction and those requiring trackside certification. The UK Drug Testing Behemoth 16 drug test cup is available to buy online and makes an excellent broad-spectrum cup drug test kit choice for the workplace, as well as healthcare drug screening.


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