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Are you addicted to a ‘legal’ drug? Codeine addiction on the increase

Media release - 15 June 2015
When most people think about drug addiction they conjure up images of shady dealings on street corners.  However, the legal route that many people take to obtain an addictive opiate involves walking into a pharmacy and buying any number of medicines that contain codeine.
The Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) recognises that codeine abuse is a widespread problem. According to Mark Payne, the CEO of ICPA, “No accurate statistics exist for codeine abuse in South Africa but it has become common enough, and of enough concern, that the appropriate authorities in South Africa have considered making codeine products only available on a doctor’s prescription and have already lowered the quantity of codeine in medicine.”
The Pharmacy community however recognizes the implications of this to both the patient and the doctor and has put in place a program (Codeine Care Initiative) that will monitor the use of this drug by patients preventing duplication and also the abuse of codeine containing medicine. In this manner the patient that has fallen into the abuse pattern will be identified and helped whilst the conscientious patient will not have to go to the lengths of having to spend extra time and money on a doctor’s consultation for a medicine that is very safe when used correctly.
Ahead of Drug Awareness Week, taking place from 24-28 June 2015, ICPA provides this information on codeine and the signs and symptoms of addiction:
What is codeine
Codeine is contained in over the counter schedule 2 preparations and is typically found in common medicines used, for example, to treat colds and flu symptoms, supress coughs and treat general pain - and it does not require a prescription for its purchase.
Codeine falls under the category of narcotic medication and is a type of opiate - derived from the opium poppy plant and is related to the drug heroin.  Since codeine is a member of the opiate drug class, it has similar morphine-like effects on the body,  giving users a sense of calm and wellbeing. As your body becomes used to codeine, increased doses are needed to achieve this same desired effect and this is where the danger of addiction comes in.
How can you become addicted?
Regular or long-term use or abuse of codeine medications (several times a day for several weeks or more) can lead to addiction.
Because addiction occurs gradually over time, it is sometimes difficult to gauge your risk of becoming addicted - or if you have already become addicted – to codeine.
Signs and Symptoms of codeine Addiction
According to ICPA, if you are struggling with codeine addiction you may experience several signs and symptoms that indicate a problem.  Similarly, if you are worried that someone you care about is suffering with an addiction to codeine, look for these signs and symptoms:
  • Withdrawal from social activities, loss of interest in hobbies
  • Repeatedly borrowing or asking for money to support addiction
  • Mood swings and/or irritability
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Persistent drowsiness/fatigue and excessive sleeping
  • Complaints of itchy skin and bluish tint to lips and fingernails
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Uncontrolled muscle twitching
Check for addiction by answering the questions below:
1. Have you tried to cut down or stop using medication containing codeine, but been unsuccessful or found it very difficult?
2. Have you continued to use medication containing codeine even after the original symptoms disappeared?
3. Can you get through a whole week without using your medication containing codeine?
4. Do you find yourself needing greater and greater amounts of your medication containing codeine to achieve the desired results?
5. Has your use of medication containing codeine created problems between you and other people in your life – either at home or at work?
6. Have you experienced any withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, anxiety, anger or irritability, either when taking medication containing codeine or when trying to stop?
If you have answered Yes to any of the questions above the ICPA recommend that you either speak to your pharmacist, speak to your GP, or go to www.turntohelp.co.za.
“As a body which represents the interests of independent community pharmacies across South Africa, the ICPA feels that it is part of our responsibility to call people’s attention to the prevalence and dangers of codeine addiction,” concludes Payne.
About the ICPA
ICPA (Independent Community Pharmacy Association) is an organization which provides independent community pharmacies with a collective strength and a coherent voice that is heard by government, medical schemes, pharmaceutical suppliers and importantly, the consumer.
ICPA represents the largest pool of professionals in the healthcare sector with over 1 100 pharmacies, about 2 500 pharmacists and 20 000 supportive healthcare personnel spread across metropolitan, urban and rural South Africa.
The objective of ICPA is to assist and support its members in securing a sustainable and successful future as independent, owner-managed pharmacies.  In addition to this, the ICPA strives to foster an understanding of the role that independent pharmacies can (and do) play in delivering important healthcare services to the communities that they serve.
All ICPA members are committed to high quality pharmacist care and to the restoration and maintenance of the health and well-being of the consumer – the lifeblood of all pharmacies.
Issued on behalf of ICPA by Catalyst Communications:
Contact: Catherine Pate 082 922 1737 / This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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