PAIN PILL CRISIS 33 painkiller deaths in three years, shocking statistics show amid calls to pull drug from over the counter sale
IRELAND’S secret codeine epidemic has claimed dozens of lives since 2018, the Irish Sun has learned.
It caused 33 deaths in the three years to 2021, including 17 last year, and a senior doctor warned that the toll may be just the “tip of the iceberg.”
Nine death certificates listed the drug as a pre-existing condition. Seven deaths were under 34, 11 under 44, and 11 under 54.
The doctor told the CMO and Health Minister about “Nurofen Plus Dependency Syndrome.” The nephrologist said more young women are developing chronic conditions, including kidney failure.
In his letter, the expert said codeine addiction worried the digestive system, critical care, GPs, psychiatrists, and addiction counselors.
My nephrology colleagues across the country are seeing similar cases, he warned.
I think removing Codeine from over-the-counter medications won’t hurt patient care.
Laura Newell, 39, died after becoming addicted to the drug. The Irish Sun reported last month that thousands of people are addicted to codeine after using Nurofen Plus to treat pain.
After hearing about Ms. Newell’s January death, the Department of Health is reviewing codeine.
Five months later, Minister Donnelly hasn’t provided any updates despite the growing problem.
Last year, 17 deaths were attributed to codeine, up from five in 2020. 2018 had seven and 2019 four.
Two people in 2021, five in 2020, and two in 2019 had codeine use listed as a pre-existing condition. 158 people died last year because of alcohol, which is widely consumed and subject to new public health legislation.
In 2021, 60 cases will have a pre-existing condition, compared to 44 in 2020, 32 in 2019, and 44 in 2018.
The kidney specialist also wrote to HPRA chief Michael Donnelly.
“I regret having to write about an evolving public health concern,” he wrote.
I’ve met more young women with Nurofen Plus Dependence Syndrome.
“These patients invariably deny the use of Nurofen Plus initially, but usually admit to using up to one box per day after multiple admissions and establishing rapport with these patients,” he said.
“The long-term medical consequences are profound for some of these individuals who will progress to end-stage kidney failure,” he said. “But the devastating effects on their family, children, and the health care system as a result of repeated hospital admissions with multiple consequences are also profound.”
Since 2010, codeine sales have been restricted.
The drug is combined with ibuprofen in Nurofen Plus and paracetamol in Solpadeine. The Irish Sun reported last month that codeine addicts go “shopping” outside their home counties.
We showed how easy it was to build a stash by buying ten boxes in Dublin’s city center in minutes.
Faking an injury, we were asked a few questions at each store, but only one mentioned codeine’s side effects.
As you know, the sale of Nurofen Plus is regulated by pharmacies, but these patients travel to multiple counties and pharmacies to treat their codeine addiction.
We know who the doctor is, but we couldn’t reach him for comment.
He added, “I believe it’s impossible for the pharmacy sector to regulate this drug, so I’m requesting an investigation with the medical and pharmacy professions and the withdrawal of all codeine OTC products.”
Stephen Donnelly’s spokesman said, “The Department of Health is conducting a review and the Minister won’t pre-judge the outcome.”
Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Nurofen Plus, said its product is constantly reviewed for safety.