An all too common problem in most communities, drug addiction is something that takes hold of thousands of people in Doncaster every year.
While the dangers of Class A opiates such as heroin and crack cocaine are well documented, it is addictions to legal drugs prescribed by doctors that have become one of the borough’s emerging drug problems.
And as the country marks National Overdose Day this week, shock new figures have revealed how of the some 144 people admitted to Doncaster Royal Infirmary last year for accidental overdoses - just 12 of those accidental overdoses were caused by taking illicit drugs.
An habitual user of illegal drugs for years, Tom* would take a daily cocktail of ‘everything from cannabis to heroin’.
Despite continuously risking the effects of drugs bought on the streets he never accidentally overdosed until he became addicted to prescription painkiller, tramadol.
The Doncaster dad switched from illegal drugs to tramdol because he says he was sick of the drugs lifestyle that he says ‘revolved around scoring your next fix’.
Tom says he initially tried to give up drugs completely, but attempting to quit cold turkey brought back the ‘emotional problems’ that had initially led him to begin taking drugs. It was at this point that he began taking tramadol pills that had been prescribed to his mother-in-law for pain relief.
“They made problems with my physical state and my emotional state disappear,” Tom told the Free Press. He continued: “They made me feel normal again.
“I started taking four or five at a time and really didn’t give it a second thought to be honest.
“Tramadol is also an opiate, and so by taking it I was able to avoid what is known as ‘the rattle’, which is when you try to come off drugs and feel like you want to die. It hurts your stomach, everywhere.
“I thought that because they had been prescribed by a doctor that there wasn’t really any danger in taking them to be honest.
“I didn’t really think I was addicted to them, but my tolerance started to go up and so I would need to take more and more in order to get the same effect.”
Before long Tom had started doubling his doses to the point where taking 10 or 11 at a time had become common practise.
But just weeks later, he accidentally overdosed after taking 15 tramadol in one go.
“I didn’t realise what was going to happen, but I collapsed and had an out of body experience. I thought I was going to die, I said to myself ‘you’ve really done it now. I promised myself that if I made it through that I was going to get myself clean, and sort myself out properly this time.” After recovering from his overdose and undergoing treatment with New Beginnings at the Doncaster Drug and Alcohol Hub, Tom was able to finally get clean.
Tom has since been able to turn his life around, and is now drug free and in full-time employment.
He says one of his biggest regrets is the tens of thousands of pounds his addictions cost the NHS.
“My message now would be to listen to your doctor. I would say don’t take more tablets than it says on the packet. It will do you harm. If you need help, please seek it. Also, please do not take tablets that have not been prescribed for you. If you start thinking you’ve got a problem, go and see them,” added Tom. He continued: “And don’t take anything that you haven’t had prescribed.”
Doncaster health chiefs have also warned of the dangers of taking more than the stated dose of medication prescribed by doctors. Dr Nick Tupper, chairman of NHS Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group said: “The message is that strong painkillers and alcohol are a potentially deadly cocktail, so don’t mix them.
“As well as the physical and emotional trauma to those involved and their families, the cost to the NHS in Doncaster of treating those people was around £200,000.
“We’re highlighting the dangers through radio advertising and posters placed in public places.
Councillor Pat Knight, Cabinet Member for Public Health, said: “If you take prescription painkillers do you know how strong the medication you are taking is? If you take more than the stated dose you could be putting yourself at risk. You can hand back any of your unwanted tablets and pills at any time by visiting your local pharmacy. Pharmacists will also be highlighting the dangers of mixing alcohol with strong medication.”
For more support contact Doncaster Drug and Alcohol Hub on 01302 730956 or visit www.drughub.co.uk
• Tom’s name has been changed to protect his identity.