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Alarming increase in opioid drug use among poles raises concerns

Alarming increase in opioid drug use among poles raises concerns

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Weronika Paliczka,
13.05.2024 14:00

The e-Health Centre has recently released some alarming statistics. It shows a significant increase in the number of Polish patients who are taking potent opioid drugs every year. A representative from the Supreme Medical Council has acknowledged that some patients are using these substances for recreational purposes.

The illegal drug market is constantly changing and adapting. Today, even medicinal drugs are being used for non-medical purposes. For instance, the current fentanyl crisis in the United States is caused by a drug originally intended for severe pain relief. This has resulted in entire communities being devastated by addiction and overdoses.

Similar stories can be heard from pharmacists worldwide. For example, a few years ago in Poland, cough syrup containing codeine was highly sought after and popular among drug abusers. To control the situation, some pharmacies limited the sale of the drug to one pack per person.

Is there an opioid epidemic in Poland?

According to data from the e-Health Centre, the number of prescriptions issued for potent opioids has been on the rise in Poland. In 2019, doctors issued 1,384,149 full-price prescriptions for these drugs, while in 2023, the number increased to 1,825,203. Additionally, the number of patients receiving reimbursement for opioid prescriptions in 2023 was 5,611,040, slightly lower than the 5,853,793 in 2019.

Jakub Kosikowski, the spokesperson for the Supreme Medical Council, posed an intriguing question in a recent interview with Gazeta Wyborcza: "It begs the question - where are these prescriptions without reimbursement coming from? Do doctors not realise that this group of drugs can be reimbursed? Or perhaps patients are not aware that these drugs can be reimbursed? Or is it that opioid medicines have become a part of entertainment and commerce?"

According to Jakub Kosikowski, oncology patients receive treatment under the National Health Fund and are entitled to prescriptions that are reimbursed. The same applies to those who suffer from severe pain after an accident and use opioid medication for pain relief. The conclusion is that full-price prescriptions are issued for non-medical purposes.

Kosikowski emphasises that individuals who are determined to obtain strong opioid drugs will find a way to do so. This includes both prescription vending machines and social media groups where one can purchase a prescription for tramadol, methadone, or codeine for a small fee.

How do we combat semi-legal prescriptions?

"Teleprescription services should be regulated to ensure that patients receive appropriate care. It should not be the case that patients simply provide their PESEL number and describe their ailment, only to receive medication shortly after that," Kosikowski explains. "Additionally, doctors should have access to the prescription history of patients seeking medical advice. This access should be on a one-off basis, where doctors can only view the medical records of patients who come to them for advice on a given day. It should also be considered whether certain groups of medicines should be prescribed only in selected outpatient clinics such as GP surgeries, palliative medicine, or oncological pain management."

The doctor adds, "If someone has a specific ailment, the drugs should automatically be reimbursed, even if the appointment is in a private practice. This will help us identify the problem's scale and determine where medicines are being prescribed for non-medical purposes."

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza

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