Cork GP: Older patients being exploited by loved ones to access high-value drugs

He warned that the value of just one tablet can amount to between €10 and €20 on the streets
Cork GP: Older patients being exploited by loved ones to access high-value drugs

Paul O’Sullivan said that he has experienced situations during the course of his career where people have attempted to gain access to certain medications illicitly. He warned that the value of just one tablet can amount to between €10 and €20 on the streets.

A WEST Cork GP described the shocking pressures facing some older patients amid reports of people exploiting their loved one’s medical issues to access drugs that have high value on the streets.

Paul O’Sullivan said that he has experienced situations during the course of his career where people have attempted to gain access to certain medications illicitly. He warned that the value of just one tablet can amount to between €10 and €20 on the streets.

“These medications have a currency,” said Dr O’Sullivan. “If you get a month’s supply of 28, then that’s quite a sizable number for 20 minutes’ work. There is a ready market for these on the streets. That’s why we have to be extremely careful that family members are not coercing their loved ones, either by looking for increased opiates or benzodiazepines or other drugs.”

He said that members of the medical community work closely together to protect their patients from such abuse. He referred to one incident by way of example.

“I had a carer come in and tell me that the person they looked after was still in a lot of pain and needed stronger medication. The patient was too infirm to make it to the surgery. We knew that this amount of medication was too strong but it transpired that the carer was taking it themselves.”

The Bantry-based GP has become adept through experience at spotting signs of elder abuse. He opened up about another situation that raised grave concern.

“I was speaking to an elderly gentleman on the phone but could hear a faint voice in the background. It turned out to be his son and he was coaching him to tell me which medication he wanted. Having someone exerting control over a person like that is a huge cause for concern.”

He encouraged people to report signs of elder abuse.

“The elderly can be in a vulnerable position as a result of having access to high-strength or value medication. This is very difficult for them. I’ve come across elder abuse more than once in my career and spotting the signs that someone is abusing their position of power is something we all need to be aware of.”

PRESCRIPTION FORGING

Dr O’Sullivan said that progress has been made in recent years to combat crimes such as prescription forging.

“There has been an improvement now as the system of electronic prescribing lessens the chance of it being used illicitly.

“We always try to prescribe the lowest possible dose of benzodiazepines. Diazepam comes in a number of doses. We try to prescribe the lowest dose. The others are more potent and so have a higher value.”

The frontline worker also highlighted the dangers of taking sleeping pills on a long-term basis.

“In the UK, it’s one to two weeks whereas in Ireland they can be prescribed for two to four weeks. It was believed there would be less side effects with the newer medication but it looks like people are developing the same problems as they were with the older benzodiazepines like diazepam or nitrazepam.

“What they are supposed to do is facilitate sleep or reduce anxiety. Unfortunately, the side effects are also dependence, an increased risk of falling, and a long-term increased risk of dementia. They can also cause motor impairment as well as cardiovascular issues and depression.”

Studies in recent years show that older women are more vulnerable to prescription medication misuse than their male peers. “In Ireland, the percentage of chronic benzodiazepine use is 40% higher in women over the age of 65 as it is in men.”

For information on supports available to people with prescription drug addictions, visit  www.drugs.ie/phone.

To find out more about supports available for elder abuse victims, visit www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/4/olderpeople/elderabuse/.

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