Dr Eva Orsmond, presenter of Medication Nation, with former Government press secretary Shane Kenny on the show. Below, Mike Guerin
DR EVA Orsmond’s documentary Medication Nation revealed to the nation the explosion in prescription medication abuse and addiction – but it was no surprise to counsellors in Bruree House.
Mike Guerin, who featured in the RTE show on Monday, said benzodiazepines – valium and zanax – related admissions have doubled since 2009. Once Cuan Mhuire in Bruree was only associated with alcoholics but now up to one in 10 of those seeking help are addicted to over the counter drugs.
The documentary told how over 450,000 people in Ireland, or roughly one in ten, are on anti-depressants, and prescriptions have skyrocketed from €32m in 2000 to €73.5m in 2015. This figure does not include private prescriptions. Over the last 10 years benzodiazepines have been implicated in more deaths by poisoning than heroin.
Dr Orsmond, who visited Bruree House to interview Mr Guerin, said: “When we think of addiction we think of heroin or alcohol abuse but we have to face the facts that there are much wider and deeper problems with drug abuse in this country.
“In so many homes across Ireland people are using and abusing pain and anti-anxiety medication, hiding behind a wall of drug dependancy than facing life’s problems. This issue is chronic and growing. We have to wake up”
Mr Guerin has first hand of experience of dealing with those who have become hooked to prescription drugs.
“There isn't a stigma about them in the same way there is about buying drugs on a street corner. Not only is there not a stigma, there's actually a kind of respectability about it in so far as when somebody becomes dependent on something like this, when they are intervened with, almost always the first line of defence is, 'Sure what are you on about? The doctor gave it to me. I'm only following doctor's orders'.
“One of the things highlighted in the show was the almost expectation that the patient has in Ireland that when the going gets tough, they go to the doctor and they won't walk out without a script.
“In other words, if you went to the doctor in the morning and you were feeling anxious, there is an expectation that the doctor will give you something, and that, also, there's a kind of an attitude if he doesn't give it to me I'll go down the road to someone who bloody well will,” said Mr Guerin, who likens it to our relationship with alcohol.
“There's a kind of a cultural rule that we can't do anything without drink in us. Equally there's a culture happening around the stresses and strains of daily living, where when it gets too much for us, we go off to the doctor and settle for nothing less than getting something to escape [the pain].
“One point that is being missed is the length of time in which they are being prescribed to people. Valium is indicated over a certain period of time by the manufacturers not infinitum. It’s almost inevitable in that situation, the dependence."
Mr Guerin says valium and xanax are “very easy” to get addicted to and they are seeing men and women presenting who have a secondary addiction of alcohol, illegal drugs or gambling. Somebody who is addicted to gambling is going to be anxious and it is a vicious circle, he says.
And breaking that cycle can be harder than coming off heroin. One of those seeing treatment in Bruree House said “benzos” led to him becoming addicted to heroin and he overdosed three times, while another said they “mentally break you”.