Painkiller abuse alert

Painkiller abuse alert
Zakiah Koya
KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 1, 2009) : Doctors are sounding the alarm bells over the abuse of a cheap over-the-counter painkiller among schoolchildren and drug addicts to get high on. They want the drug placed on the controlled list immediately before there is an epidemic.

Addiction Medicine Association of Malaysia (Amam) says it has noted an emergence of young patients in their late teens addicted to Tramadol, a painkiller sold at pharmacies for as low as RM10 for a strip of 10.

A recent survey involving some 40 general practitioners nationwide showed that half of them who had treated patients addicted to heroin and other street drugs have come across patients who have abused Tramadol.


Dr Steven Chow Kim Weng

Addiction therapists have also reported that it is more difficult to detoxify a Tramadol user than a heroin addict because of the drug’s easy availability.

In light of this, Amam, which has a membership of 600 doctors, wants the Health Ministry to make the drug a scheduled item, in line with the practice in the United States and Britain. It has written to the Health Ministry but has yet to receive any response.

Amam president Dr Steven Chow Kim Weng said if Tramadol is made a controlled drug, medical practitioners would exercise caution when dispensing it.

Checks by theSun at four pharmacies in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya revealed that only one refused to sell the green and yellow bullet-pills without a proper explanation of symptoms. The reporter had no problem with the other three.

Chow wants quick action on this matter because the drug is much cheaper than street drugs and much more easily accessible to all ages.

He said it is not a scheduled drug in Malaysia because pharmalogically, this drug was thought to be non-addictive. However, he said, it has now been proven that some Tramadol addicts are popping as many as 30 pills a day.

The manufacturer sets the dosage limit at 400mg a day.

Chow said from his observation, addicts range from schoolchildren to their late 20s.

“Often, these individuals have tried various drugs and abuse Tramadol to take advantage over poor regulation rather than the kick.”

Chow warns that should hardcore drug users find out that they can get their fix through this easily-available drug, Malaysia is in for a real epidemic.

“They should take this as seriously as heroin. Now, they (Tramadol addicts) are taking it orally but the more adventurous users crush them into powder and inject them (intravenously). We call the Health Ministry to act quickly before the situation gets any worse,” said Chow.

Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society Datuk Nancy Ho said if it is indeed proven that Tramadol is being widely abused, the authorities should make it a scheduled drug. She called on all pharmacists to exercise caution when selling Tramadol or any other drugs that could be abused for recreational purposes.

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