ABUSE of prescription drugs is reaching epidemic proportions -- with more than 520 people a year dying directly from misusing such medication.
While most of the deaths are related to anti-depressants, there is a growing abuse of prescribed painkillers and medications used to treat attention deficit disorder in children, along with over-the-counter painkillers, according to Dr Des Corrigan of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs.
Dr Corrigan says that in Ireland many of the deaths are due to people combining illicit drugs such as heroin with alcohol and benzodiazepines such as anti-depressants or sleeping tablets in what he describes as a "lunatic cocktail".
Dr Corrigan stresses that on their own the drugs individually might not be enough to kill but when they are taken together "it's not one and one makes two, it's one and one makes four. You get this multiplying effect".
There is a growing trend here, too, in the abuse of painkillers such as oxycontin and vicodin, which have been highlighted for their abuse by Hollywood celebrities.
He also says that stimulants prescribed for children with attention deficit disorder are "leaking from the prescription market into the black market".
The former Trinity College-based pharmacist explains that over-the-counter painkillers often contain codeine, which is from the opium poppy. Codeine is addictive and the other ingredients in the painkillers lead to liver and kidney damage.
Dr Corrigan supports a new awards scheme being run by an anti-drugs organisation, which has the dangers of prescriptions drugs as its theme.
The Greater Blanchardstown Response To Drugs is running a competition among primary and secondary school pupils to encourage them to "think and talk about the drugs issue".
The children are being asked to submit newspaper articles, cartoon strips, audio features, film or animated videos for the Let's Talk About Drugs competition, sponsored by the HSE and the Co Dublin VEC.
Details of the competition are on www.gbrd.ie.