Part 1 of 2: Northern Ireland's Prescription Drug Problem

29 November 2017
Part 1 of 2: Northern Ireland's Prescription Drug Problem

BBC spotlight recently addressed the increasing prescription drug problem in Northern Ireland and why these drugs account for the majority of drug related deaths in the country. In relation to the ongoing US opioid epidemic, the documentary highlighted Northern Ireland’s own crisis regarding over prescribed medication.

According to the report, the biggest killer in Northern Ireland is tramadol, a prescription painkiller taken by thousands daily. Like other opiates, tramadol stimulates brain opioid receptors but increases brain serotonin levels. The tramadol death rate has continued to increase in Northern Ireland, whilst it has decreased in Great Britain, where the biggest killer is heroin.

Professor Jack Crane, the leading expert in forensic medicine said that “like morphine and heroin, tramadol is highly addictive. If you are taking it regularly you then develop a tolerance to it, which means you need to take even more for it to be effective”. An article by the Belfast Telegraph revealed earlier this year that the number of deaths in Northern Ireland related to narcotics was higher than the number of road deaths. Tramadol was reclassified as a Class C drug without prescription in 2014.

Although tramadol is not as strong as heroin, they share similar side effects and are both equally addictive. Tramadol’s side effects can include drowsiness, fatigue, nausea, diarrhoea, dizziness, confusion and hallucinations. When mixed with a cocktail of other drugs tramadol can become life threatening. Our level of expertise in toxicology has enabled us to provide the DoA IV panel, which can screen for a range of prescription drugs of abuse, including tramadol. Using Randox Toxicology’s revolutionary Biochip Array Technology, designed to work across a wide variety of matrices, we can provide a complete immunoassay profile in the initial screening phase.

Northern Ireland aren’t alone in the war against prescription drug abuse. A recent report from the Pew Research Centre expressed concerns over prescription drug abuse in the U.S. The report revealed that the majority of Americans included in the study viewed prescription drug abuse as a serious public health problem, rating it higher than mental illness. This comes amid President Donald Trump’s upcoming announcement of U.S. opioid crisis.

Speaking on Northern Ireland’s issue, Sharon O’Neill proclaimed, “The vulnerable and those living on the margins are 10 times more likely to be killed abusing prescription drugs”. In addition to screening for tramadol, the Randox Toxicology DoA IV panel can detect for 12 other analytes such as acetaminophen, ethyl glucuronide, ibuprofen and tricyclic antidepressants. Through significant research and development Randox Toxicology continue to adapt quickly to the ever-changing market and develop assays for current and novel drug trends.

To discover more about how we are advancing the future of toxicology and tackling the prescription drug problem, get in touch with us by emailing

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