A woman has described how easy access to drugs on the Internet fueled an addiction that started with a prescription for menstrual pain when she was 19.
Sara Speakes, from Pembrokeshire, bought the tablet online before she eventually suffered a stroke at the age of 46.
She said she was “sucked into the eyeball” by opiates and benzodiazepines.
So-called “benzos” are responsible for a “significant increase” in drug deaths in Wales, a charity has said.
Sarah’s addiction started with pain medication prescribed by her GP to help her cope with her period pains.
Over time, she needed more and more to feel the effects, and in desperation, she turned to unregistered internet pharmacies.
“It got really bad,” said Sarah, 47, of Pembroke Quays. “If the doctor might prescribe two painkillers, I would take six to eight pills at a time, three to four times a day. »
Sarah told her doctor she was afraid of becoming addicted.
To help reduce her codeine addiction, she said her doctor prescribed diazepam, a psychoactive drug called a benzodiazepine most commonly used to treat severe anxiety disorders.
“I just want to increase and increase and get to that level every time,” she said. “You can hold on for that long and then your body will get used to it. So I’d take ridiculous amounts. »
When she ran out of pills between prescriptions, she checked on different GP surgeries or claimed she lost her pills while on holiday.
At one point, she even started taking her boyfriend’s mother’s medication.
“I would take five or six diazepam, five or six zopiclones, 21 antihistamines,” she said. “I just don’t agree because I’m totally captivated. »
Eventually, Sarah turned to the Internet. Find your tablet with a quick Google search.
The sites she came across had words like “pharmacy” in the title, fake Trustpilot reviews and “FDA approved” stamps to trick her into thinking they were legitimate.
But many of these sites are unregistered pharmacies selling counterfeit, dangerous and illegal drugs. These sites have no restrictions on the number of tablets you can buy at the same time.
If you are concerned about the issues raised in this report, you can contact BBC Action Line.
Sarah described them as “like candy” and she spent “hundreds of pounds”.
Wedinos, the Welsh drug testing service (Welsh Emerging Drugs and New Substances Identification), has raised concerns about an increase in counterfeit medicines being sold online.
Many of the pills on these “illegal” sites “are not pharmaceutical grade” and may contain unknown doses of different drugs, he said.
“There is an increased risk of adverse reactions, addiction, hospitalization or death, especially when alcohol and other drugs are taken concomitantly or for a short period of time,” the association said.
Things got so bad for Sarah that her eldest teenage son decided to leave the house.
“I functioned as normal as possible as a mother and I was as involved as possible in their upbringing,” Sarah told BBC Radio Wales.
“My addictions got so bad that I couldn’t take care of them anymore,” she added.
” [My eldest son] One day he came to see me and he said to me, “Mom, I will stay with my family because I have to concentrate on the exam”. I guess that’s what crashed me. »
“There’s something inside me that won’t give up”
The day she left, she decided to stop taking the pills. But it was too late.
A few days later, she was left in a coma from a stroke.
Sarah was hospitalized for six weeks and nearly died.
“I know there was a call one night saying ‘you need to come in, Sarah won’t stay the night,'” she said.
“But after about five weeks, I started waking up – there was something inside me that wasn’t going to give up.
“I was told that I was very, very lucky to have survived, they were told that I might not survive, that there was something in me that made me fight. »
Sarah said she has not taken benzodiazepines or opioid pain relievers since her stroke in May 2021.
She is trying to rebuild her life, reconnect with her children and volunteer with the Dyfed Drug and Alcohol Service.
She teamed up with the charity to create “Sara’s Soothing Bags,” which are full of distractions and offer a little comfort to others who are quitting.
“Am I going to forgive myself?” she asked. “Probably not.
“It’s learning to live with it,” she explained. “So my apology to the kids is kind of like ‘I’m going to fight this, and then I’m going to show you I’m going to do well now and try to stop this from happening again’ because I’m not going to It happened to my worst enemy. »
But like Sarah, many more turn to sites that sell drugs online.
According to Wedinos, benzodiazepines accounted for the majority of illicit drug seizures in Wales and England in 2019-20 – more than 719,000 doses.
This was a 200 per cent increase on the previous year, with 84 per cent of seizures in Wales.
After testing pills sold as diazepam, one of Sarah’s prescription drugs, Vedinos found that 55 percent of them were counterfeit.
These fake benzodiazepines have caused a dramatic rise in deaths in Wales and England, from a few deaths a year at the start of the century to 62 in 2020.
Rob Barker-Williams, from drug charity Barod, said: “From 2019 to 2020, we have seen a 155% increase in diazepam-related deaths in Wales. »
Benzodiazepines have also been linked to heroin- or methadone-related drug-related deaths because people take several different drugs at the same time.
Mr Barker-Williams said: “Look at other countries such as Scotland, where they have seen a huge increase in drug-related deaths related to benzodiazepines. We seem to be starting from this curve, which is a major problem. »
Dr David Bailey, chair of BMA Cymru Wales, said: “While benzodiazepines were initially considered a relatively safe and effective treatment for anxiety, over the years they have been shown to have significant addictive effects.
He said GPs had “significantly reduced” prescriptions for benzodiazepines. National guidelines now state that the drug is only for short-term use.
“We are very concerned to hear that patients are getting their medicines online without consulting a healthcare professional,” he said. “This can be very dangerous and we always urge patients to speak to their GP before taking any new medicines or changing their current doses.”
But Dr Bailey said the pressure on the NHS meant “there are limited resources dedicated to supporting addiction and withdrawal.
“The BMA would like to see a national 24-hour helpline dedicated to prescription addiction patients, as well as the introduction of national guidelines on tapering and discontinuing drugs with addictive side effects. »
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article Online drugs: Easy access fuels mom’s benzo addiction first appeared in Zimo News.