Tramadol was supposed to be a non-addictive alternative to more harmful opioids such as Oxycodone or Fentanyl.
The college’s president says patients need more information about the drug’s possible side effects.
Tasha Cutton was first prescribed tramadol for back pain, and before long was visiting multiple doctors to feed her addiction.
“Obviously if you’ve got any form of addiction you’re starting with the lying, so I’m going to doctors, three different doctors, saying you’re in mass pain but you’re not.”
When she was prescribed tramadol, she was not told it was potentially addictive, she said.
Cutton was now drug free, and director of Clinic 77, which helps people with addiction issues.
Doctors prescribing tramadol should tell people about the potential risks, she said.
“Just a pamphlet would be good, that kind of covered from tramadol to benzos (Benzodiazepines).”
Withdrawing from tramadol could be harder than getting off methamphetamine, she said.
“You start getting the symptoms if you stop using - sweats, shakes, tremors, nausea, vomiting.”
Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners president Samantha Murton agrees patients should be told about possible side effects.
“Whether it’s on a pamphlet or in information that’s in the packaging or with the doctor or the person who’s prescribing it.”
It was likely doctors had turned to prescribing tramadol since other opioids such as oxycontin were found to be hugely addictive, Murton said.
But in switching to tramadol, doctors may not have fully recognised that it too could create dependence and have side effects, she said.
“I think there probably has not been enough conversations about the addictive nature of it, for people to understand if they take it long term that it will be hard to come off.”
It would be helpful to have a specific prescription to help patients taper off the drug, she said.
“Some exploration of what ways people can withdraw from it slowly would be really good.”
Addiction psychologist Sam McBride said the medical profession needed to be better at communicating with patients when prescribing these kinds of drugs.
“Both identifying people who might be vulnerable, talking to people about the risks of addiction or just risks of abuse, and warning about it.”
Pharmac data showed there had been a 9 per cent increase since 2017 in the amount of the drug pharmacies had dispensed.
- Luka Forma, RNZ
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