A call for stronger response to the crisis in Ireland has come from doctors, who have called on the Government to introduce the “strong, strong, firm” approach to opioids.
Dr Michael Murray, of the Royal Irish College of Physicians, said Ireland was “at a turning point” with an “overwhelmingly young, diverse and highly-educated” population.
He said the country was facing a “very significant opioid crisis”.
“We know from other countries, including the UK, that we need to get serious about our response to this crisis, particularly when we consider that we have one of the highest rates of prescription opioid misuse in the world, a large number of people taking opioids and that the number of overdose deaths in Ireland is now over 500 a year,” he said.
“It is also a huge concern that Ireland has been a leader in the development of fentanyl and synthetic opioid products, which are being used by criminals and others to deal with the opioid crisis in our country.”
Dr Murray said the Government needed to take urgent steps to tackle the epidemic.
“The current approach to the problem is very cautious and very reactive, as if there is some underlying problem, when the reality is that there is a very significant problem,” he told the Irish Independent.
“We need to move towards a strategy that will reduce the number and the severity of overdoses, that will address the use of prescription opioids, and that will put in place the measures needed to tackle this crisis in a very sustained way.”
Dr Craig McGehee, from the University of California, Davis, said the issue of opioids was an “economic issue” that was impacting on people’s lives and finances.
“What is clear is that the economic costs of this are enormous, and the economic gains are minimal,” he added.
“For the average person, the cost of prescription opiates is less than $100 per day.
It is important that we take action to prevent further harm and to reduce costs.”
He said many people felt their addiction was “unbearable” and that a “great deal of anger and resentment” was being directed towards those who took opioids.
“This is a national crisis that is affecting many parts of our society, including at universities, at the workplace, in the social sector and in families,” he warned.
Dr McGehey said there was a “tipping point” where people needed to accept that they had “a problem”.
“It’s not a problem that people want to admit to and it’s not something that they’re going to get over,” he continued.
“But it is a problem for which we need a stronger response and we need that to happen in the short-term and we have to move into a long-term approach.”
Dr McKeown said it was important to recognise that many of those taking opioids were using them for chronic conditions that had progressed.
“Many of these people are on medications for long-standing chronic conditions,” he explained.
“They’re using them to treat chronic conditions, or they’re using it as an addiction to the drug.”
Dr McMoehan said Ireland had been able to “tackle this crisis by working with the pharmaceutical industry to produce safer alternatives to opioids”.
“But in the meantime, we have seen an increase in deaths from opioid overdoses, and an increase is expected in future years,” he pointed out.
“In the meantime we have a growing number of users that are at high risk of suicide.”
A very high proportion of those people are at risk of becoming opioid users themselves.
“Dr McGhee said the crisis was not confined to Ireland.”
There are problems throughout Europe, as well as the United States, and in the United Kingdom,” he stressed.”
So we have got a global problem that is also affecting the UK.
We have a very serious issue of addiction to prescription opioids.
We need to tackle it.
“We also have an opioid crisis affecting many different parts of the world.”
Dr McKeehan said the problem was likely to continue in the coming years, particularly in Ireland, where there were reports of an increase of opioid-related deaths in Northern Ireland and England.
“If the Government doesn’t act now, we could see an increase, perhaps even a sudden increase, in deaths that are caused by prescription opioids in the next five years,” Dr McGhee added.
Dr Murray, who is also an associate professor at the University, said more resources were needed to treat the “huge burden” of opioid prescribing in the UK and Ireland.
He also called on Government to invest more in prevention and treatment, which would “ensure a better recovery” for people who were already addicted to opioids and “to reduce the use and misuse of prescription drugs”.
Dr Murray also said the use was “very high” in the “vulnerable” population, who often had a history of substance abuse or mental health problems.
He described the “preliminary data