A recent study published in Science Daily talks about the concerns UK doctors are recognizing with over the counter medicines, especially those containing codeine. Doctors are referring to the abusers as “respectable addicts” because these individuals all recognized their problem and wanted to present themselves as being more normal than the typical illicit prescription drug user who purposely abuses the medication.
Individuals in the study all described using an opiate, typically codeine, and most had started using the OTC medicine for genuine medical purposes. There were three types of abuse recognized based on the amount of medicine taken. They ranged from never taking more than the maximum recommended dosage to taking a much higher dosage than recommended. All patients described having symptoms of withdrawal and using the OTC meds for different reasons than indicated on the label. All had tried to stop.
Those individuals who sought help for their addiction used a variety of techniques ranging from Internet support groups to medical treatment, but none of them sought pharmacy advice. This brought up the overriding concern for the need to hide their addiction. Interestingly, the author found that these individuals blamed themselves instead of their pharmacists or anyone else for their OTC addiction. Thus, they were termed “respectable addicts” for their strong desire to separate themselves from the illicit drug abuser.
There were a number of key concerns that arose from the study, the first being to protect individuals from the possible harms OTC medicines can cause while also keeping them accessible to the public. It is also necessary to recognize that although OTC medicines are often less harmful than prescription drugs, they are still addictive and potentially dangerous.
The doctors concluded that raising awareness of OTC medication abuse and improving treatment and support choices are imperative to managing these issues.