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Belgium’s painkiller problem

Friday, 24 January 2020

Credit: Piqsels
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The number of Belgians taking addictive, morphine-like painkillers has increased by 56% in ten years, according to figures from The National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance.

1.12 million Belgians were prescribed heavy painkillers in 2018, or about 10% of the population, compared to only 716,508 Belgians in 2008.

More than one million Belgians received a prescription for tramadol, a strong opioid pain medication, in 2018, and 80,000 others bought the even stronger oxycodone painkiller. In total, about 1.12 million people in Belgium were prescribed some sort of addictive, morphine-like painkiller.

“Patients who take drugs such as tramadol often use other medications too,” said addiction specialist Geert Dom, reports Het Nieuwsblad. “So there is definitely cause for concern,” he added.

It is an alarming trend, according to doctors, as the increasing abuse of opioids can lead to serious addictions, and overdoses can be fatal.

Deliberate abuse, in particular, is problematic, according to experts, referring to patients who visit different doctors for prescriptions, for themselves or for dealing purposes. They suggest a system in which the medical records of the patient are linked to pharmaceutical records, and giving doctors and pharmacists access to them.

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However, such a system would go against the doctor-patient confidentiality and privacy legislation.

“The doctor and the pharmacist can only exchange information with each other about the details of the medical prescription, not about the prescriptions of other doctors,” said Professor Michel De Neyer of the Order of Physicians, reports De Standaard. Additionally, patients must give their ‘informed consent.’

“We urgently need to find a balance between respecting the patients’ private life and professional confidentiality on the one hand, and the quality of care and the protection of public health on the other,” he added.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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