Prescription drugs: legal and lethal
"In one of its less sensational aspects, our escalating fondness for taking drugs that won’t get you arrested can be measured in the 10% annual rise over the past three years in the use of antidepressants, notably our old friend Prozac. The NHS issued 31m scripts for Prozac in 2006, a blanket figure that, however it breaks down in terms of the numbers of users referred to, suggests that a lot of people are regularly taking a powerful antidepressant. Then there are the Valium guzzlers. The Council for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction (Cita), run by Liverpool University, guesstimates that there are as many as 1.5m nervous types in this country who have become accidentally addicted to benzodiazepines, the family of tranquillisers to which Valium belongs. Others take them knowingly, for fun. According to Professor Heather Ashton of Newcastle University, author of a pamphlet on addiction to benzodiazepines, these “are now taken illicitly in high doses by 90% of drug abusers worldwide. They are part of the drug scene”. So well integrated are they that abusers will crush the pills and snort or inject them, the same way they might cocaine or heroin.
More worrying in a way, because they attract less attention, are those habit-forming drugs that can be bought without prescription at high-street pharmacies. Concern about these has given rise to a new coinage in the world of drug dependency, “OTCs”, an abbreviation for painkillers bought “over the counter”. This usually refers to the more powerful varieties of OTCs, such as codeine, which contains synthetic opiates. At a conference of the General Medical Association in 2004 it was suggested that there might be 50,000 OTC addicts in Britain today. The authorities are also concerned about OTC drugs causing suicidal tendencies: the European Medicines Agency is calling for OTC drugs to come with a “suicide rating”."
"The prescription drugs causing most concern are antidepressants. Prozac, which has been around for 20-odd years, is old news. The two newcomers currently causing medical debate are the branded drugs Efexor and Cymbalta. These are classed as “selective seratonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors”, or SSNRIs. The added “N” is what makes them special. Unlike Prozac and other SSRIs, these drugs do not simply increase levels of seratonin, the brain chemical that makes us feel more sociable and relaxed. They also boost adrenaline, making us more energetic and sometimes slightly manic."Just because a doctor has prescribed it, it doesn't mean a drug is safe.