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Rise of Opioid Misuse

Opioid misuse is once again making headlines. Last month the government made new recommendations in response to the increase in prescribing rates for opioids in the UK. It has also been reported that a vast increase in the use of codeine is fuelling fears of a national opioid addiction crisis[1].

In this blog, we take a closer look at the problem surrounding the misuse of prescription opioids in the UK and the testing options recommended for family law cases.

What are Opioids?

More than 20 different opioid medicines are authorised for use in the treatment of pain in the UK. This can range from relieving acute back pain, to use for broken bones, and for people who are being treated for cancer. Most opiate painkillers are available on prescription from a doctor or other prescriber, but they can also be purchased on the ‘dark web’.

What’s the Problem?

The government has made it clear that opioid misuse is a growing concern. In September 2020 they shared new recommendations following a review of the risks of dependence and addiction associated with prolonged use of opioid medicines for non-cancer pain. It now needs to be made clear that if a medicine contains an opioid, there is a risk of addiction with prolonged use.  The Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) recommended that the packaging for all opioid medicines in the UK carries the warnings ‘Can cause addiction’ and ‘Contains opioid’. The changes apply to several drugs including: buprenorphine, fentanyl, methadone, pethidine and tramadol[2]

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) non-medical opioid use, prolonged use, misuse and use without medical supervision can lead to opioid dependence and other health problems. Side effects include suppression of normal breathing, loss of consciousness and coma, there is also a greater risk of overdose if you mix opioids with other substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines or other opiates such as heroin.

A report by the BBC at the beginning of the year warned that deaths caused by the opioid fentanyl are on the rise in the UK. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said the government should introduce controls to tackle the “emerging threat” the painkiller poses. The ACMD said a rise in the number of deaths in the UK is being driven by fentanyl being added to heroin. Overall, in Europe, people who use opioids are between 5 and 10 times more likely to die than their peers of the same age and gender.

Testing for Opioids

Lextox offers tests for several opioids including fentanyl, tramadol, methadone and buprenorphine, the full list of drugs we test for can be found here.

Similar to the other drugs we test for; we recommend hair testing for the following reasons:

  • We can test hair for specific substances. Targeted analysis means you can look for particular compounds
  • It provides a unique window of detection covering months, rather than days that urine or oral fluid analysis can show. A month by month analysis is useful in profiling a pattern of drug use
  • Results and Expert Reports can be issued in an average of 5 working days of receiving the hair sample
  • Results are legally defensible and are accepted in every UK family court

To find out more about testing for opioids call 029 2048 4141 or email [email protected].



Published 02/11/20 – All information correct at time of publication