|Shane Hassett with his new baby daughter, |
died three days before Christmas after
overdosing on prescription drugs.
Picture: Rob Leeson Sunday Herald Sun
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
A PRESCRIPTION drug is one that is a licensed medicine regulated by legislation and requiring authorisation from a doctor to obtain.
Sounds safe and controlled, doesn't it? So why are so many Australian lives being wrecked by such a safe and controlled system?
The National Drug Strategy household survey results in 2007 reported more than 1.2 million Australians had used a pharmaceutical drug, "for a non-medical purpose".
Now some experts believe as many as 100,000 Australians may have a problem with prescription painkillers.
This is not unique to Australia; prescription drug addiction is a problem worldwide. US authorities talk about a modern-day epidemic where prescription drug addiction is killing more people than crack cocaine in the 1980s and heroin in the 1970s combined. And in Australia we are heading down the same tortuous path. Here one of the most common prescription drugs abused is the painkiller OxyContin.
Dr Benny Monheit, who is a drug and alcohol physician and medical director of Southcity Clinic in Melbourne, said this drug was used all over the world and legislated by governments because it was effective in reducing chronic pain. But it is made from an alkaloid found in opium and produces a feeling of euphoria. And for some that can become addictive. Narelle Hassett believes her brother, Shane, got hold of this and other prescription drugs too often and too easily.
It was a prescription for death.
She said he had visited 15 different doctors in a week for prescriptions without raising alarm bells. Three days before Christmas, Shane Hassett, 29, died after overdosing on prescription drugs.
His family maintained that until Shane was prescribed painkillers a couple of years ago for an infected ear and wisdom tooth, he rarely took a tablet or had a drink. Research shows that if a patient remains on a powerful analgesic for two weeks or more, the body becomes dependent.
Shane was no angel in the last four years of his life. He became, in many ways, the stereotypical drug addict. He struggled to hold down a job, he suffered a change in personality and denied he had a problem. Last year his wife, Alicia, gave birth to their first child, a daughter. Alicia, his parents and two older siblings hoped the birth might help Shane beat his addiction. For a time it did. Then the demons returned. Shane moved to the city for work, coming home on weekends. Narelle believes that away from the support of family, Shane's addiction spiralled out of control. She said in the end he needed a cocktail of painkillers and anti-depressants to get through each day.
The family did not give up on him, not even when Shane held up a petrol station last year. Narelle believes the robbery was a cry for help, saying he didn't need money because he had borrowed from her that day, and that the petrol station he robbed was across the road from a police station. Shane's family are still suffering from his death, and others, too, remain traumatised by Shane's actions. The man he robbed, and worse, waved a samurai sword at, was shattered by the experience. The young father of two said he had lost his confidence, and his job. All because an addict crossed his path. As far as that man was concerned, he believed drug addicts like Shane cop out and do not take responsibility for their actions.
Shane Hassett, in his mind, chose his addiction over his family.
But whether you believe that or, as some health professionals argue, that addiction is a form of mental illness and should be treated as such, is beside the point. What has to be addressed, sooner rather than later, is the increased prevalence of people addicted to prescription drugs, whatever the reason. Narelle, Alicia and Shane's best friend Brett Thompson say it is time to do something about the problem most are too ashamed to confront. "There needs to be real-time monitoring of drug prescriptions," Narelle said.
And the family wants more awareness of addiction problems to readily-available drugs. "I don't want this to happen to any other normal family," Narelle said. "What happened to Shane has torn our family apart and he has a little girl he will never see grow up." Dr Monheit said real-time monitoring -- where doctors and pharmacists can see immediately what has already been prescribed for a patient -- is not available in Victoria, but is being trialled in Tasmania. "The feedback is that it is feasible," he told me. "But there are legitimate concerns about privacy." Dr Monheit believes the monitoring system could be part of an overall solution. "This problem is complex and involves every level of the health system," he said. But with so many agencies involved, a concern is that not everyone is speaking the same language to find a national solution. We can't have that. This cannot be about personalities, egos or even politics.Story by: http://www.heraldsun.com.au