Monday, December 04, 2006

Inside story: swapping prescription drugs

There’s a dangerous new practice in Britain: swapping prescription drugs. The people who are doing it won’t talk about it on the record. Health authorities won’t acknowledge it. The only way to broach the subject was to ask someone who trades painkillers for sleeping pills to write about his experiences (under a pseudonym). He explains why people are ignoring what the doctor ordered — for health and, sometimes, just for kicks
So I take drugs. So what? I am part of a self-medication nation. It’s just that rather than asking my doctor or pharmacist for prescription drugs, I swap them with other people. Nothing illegal; I’m tal king about painkillers, sleeping pills and the odd Viagra (just for kicks). And there are more and more of us dishing out our own drugs to each other. Sharing prescription drugs is as commonplace as swapping books or DVDs. Meet the pharmafriends.
Mary-Rose, 32, is a publishing executive and a single mother of a daughter, aged 7. She regularly gives her friends Coproxamol, a strong painkiller which had been prescribed for her endometriosis, a painful womb condition. Until recently, she also gave her friends Flixonase, an extra-strong nasal spray for her asthma, eczema and hayfever - but it is now available in pharmacies. In return, she gets sleeping pills. No money changes hands. “I don’t have a problem sharing prescription drugs with my friends,” she says. She lives on a leafy North London street where there are no drug dens. All the drugs, locked safely in a drawer in her flat, are obtained legally.
“I get regular prescriptions for my ongoing conditions. My endometriosis means an annual operation and monthly painkillers. Basically, I never throw anything out; you never know when it might come in handy,” she says.
I do the same. My friends and I regularly swap pills. Most of the drugs we are talking about are prescription-only, though some are available illegally online. Ritalin, prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is speed, so if I wanted to speed up I could score some Ritalin from a colleague with ADHD, although I never have. If I want to slow down, I use diazepam, obtained from my mother who is scared of flying. I saved some dihydrocodeine from a nasty dental episode some years ago. They knock you right out. I haven’t given those to anyone yet; they’re very strong. But it’s a different matter when it comes to tranquillisers and painkillers. Why do we do it? Well, we have all become increasingly expert about our health, with the internet an incredible resource for finding out what’s wrong and how to help ourselves. With more and more of us adept at self-diagnosis, self-medicating is the next obvious step. It’s quicker and easier than trying to get an appointment from a GP low on time and sympathy. Pharmafriends are there for you outside surgery hours: they do home visits; they don’t judge; and there are no charges.
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