There are various ways that prescription drugs end up being sold for a few pounds on the streets of Bradford, or behind closed doors.
They are acquired from the internet, and sold on. They are obtained from GPs by patients who lie about or embellish conditions to receive prescriptions for medication which is later sold, swapped or handed over. Drugs are also taken from a course of medication prescribed to a family member or partner, obtained and consumed by someone else within the home.
And some drugs, prescribed to addicts in recovery, are kept in the mouth during supervised consumption at pharmacies then passed on through mouth-to-mouth contact afterwards.
Prescription drugs are obtained illegally either to take or sell, or both. Often they are taken by drug users to top up their own consumption, or sold for money to buy harder drugs.
Karen (not her real name) is a former heroin addict who has spent recent years battling an addiction to prescription drugs. She told the Telegraph & Argus that these are cheap and widely accessible. “You can get what you want, where you want,” she said. “I know people who get their medication from the chemist, hide the pill under their tongue then go out and sell it. People hold methadone back in their mouth, then kiss someone to pass it on.”
Karen, 38, is in recovery, and undergoing treatment at Bradford-based drug treatment charity Bridge. She started binge drinking alcohol aged 13, and by the age of 16 she was smoking cannabis. When she was 19 she started using heroin.
“I came off it for four years and went to Narcotics Anonymous, and got my son back from care, but two years ago I relapsed,” she said. “I had a drink and it took me straight back to heroin and crack.”
When her ex-partner obtained benzodiazepine, a prescription drug to ease anxiety, Karen fell into a cycle of illegally buying the drug. She also took dihydrocodeine, prescribed for pain relief.
“I wanted to do de-tox but dfs (dihydrocodeine) and benzos were pretty cheap and available. It’s word of mouth – you know someone who knows someone,” she said. “People get them from the internet. You can get what you want where you want. I could walk up the road from here and know exactly where to get prescription drugs. An addict knows another addict just by looking at them.”
As well as the internet, prescription drugs are obtained from GPs or treatment projects, then sold on.
“People get methadone then sell it and use the money for drugs. People get Suboxone prescribed for pain relief, but some people snort it, instead of heroin,” said Karen. “People try to manipulate their doctor; they lay it on thick, saying they need something extra for anxiety or to help them sleep. Addicts know how to manipulate and lie – it’s what I used to do, so I know how it works.”
Karen is prescribed methadone and diazepam at Bridge, as part of her recovery process, and has weekly meetings with a doctor and service worker.
“I get a week’s supply which I take daily. A few years ago I’d have taken the lot in one go,” said Karen. “On the streets, you don’t always know what you’re getting. There was some valium brought in from overseas, it could have had all sorts in it. If you’re an addict you’ll just believe it’s okay and you’ll take it. You don’t think of the consequences.
“I’ve been out of the circle for four years now, and I’m trying to reduce my meds. It’s hard when you know it’s available and people who are on it are hanging out around you. The main thing is to try and stay honest.”
Kristin Rothert, head of clinical standards and quality at Bridge, has seen a significant rise in prescription drug abuse in recent years. They are usually drugs prescribed for pain relief or anxiety, with diazepam the most commonly used.
She said: “People don’t realise how quickly they can become addictive, and they don’t always know what they’re getting – when something is obtained on the internet often its synthetic, not what you’d get from a pharmaceutical company. We had reports of someone in Bradford buying benzodiazepine from Sweden, and users were reporting psychotic episodes.
“The internet doesn’t help, and drugs are available on the streets and in the home too. It’s hard to police. Service-users testing positive for opiates have usually taken tramadol, a strong opiate-based painkiller, often from a family member’s unfinished course of prescribed medication.
“People tell their GP of aches and pains, knowing full well they’re not going to take the medication prescribed. They give or sell it to other people. Gabapentin, is prescribed for neuropathic pain and also used to manage seizure disorders. If more than the prescribed amount is taken, in high quantities, the user can experience a ‘high’ or a ‘buzz’.
“Sometimes service users give this to other people.
“We prescribe suboxone, a heroin substitute, which is often diverted through the mouth. We’re getting a lot of young people coming to us for treatment, saying they have been introduced to suboxone on the street.
“With prescriptions, people present themselves to their GPs with aches and pains, knowing full well they’re not going to take the medication. But everyone responds to medication differently, and there are allergies to consider – GPs run through a check list before making a decision to prescribe medication to individuals.”
She warned that some over-the-counter medication can become addictive too. “We’ve had requests for help from people on co-codamol; it’s the codeine that’s addictive. Feminax, for menstrual cramps, can become addictive too,” said Ms Rothert. “Because you can only buy limited painkillers from a chemist, people go to several chemists to get the quantities they want.”
The Bridge reduction plan involves prescribing drugs, as part of a reduction plan, which are taken either under supervision or at home. This involves an element of trust.
“Some people take all their medication at once, we work with them on how to spread it out so they can detox themselves,” said Ms Rothert. “Sometimes they’re topping it up with other drugs. We get people saying they’re getting diazepam on the street.”
She added: “It’s a horrible cycle of wanting to get off it, but your body is dependent. It’s very hard when you don’t have a support structure and all your associates are drug-users.
“Through peer-led support groups we introduce service-users to people who have been addicts and have come through it. It offers them hope.
“Nobody sets out at the age of 12 or 13 to become addicted to alcohol or drugs. There are often catalysts behind their addiction, and they don’t like themselves as addicts.”
- For more about Bridge call (01274) 723863.