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The threat of epidemics of dependency on prescribed medicines in Europe is real – O’Reilly

22nd May 2023 - Senator Joe O'Reilly

The threat of epidemics of dependency on prescribed medicines in Europe is real, a Fine Gael Senator has said.


Senator Joe O’Reilly, the Irish representative on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has produced a report on addiction to prescription drugs, which is expected to have a significant impact on their regulation and monitoring across the continent.


The report calls for increased awareness and education for healthcare professionals and the general public on the risks and dangers of prescription drug addiction.


Senator O’Reilly said: “In 2021, the number of citizens of the European Union using prescribed medicines reached 38%.


“This indicates that the threat of epidemics of dependency on prescribed medicines is real.


“At the same time, guaranteeing adequate availability of drugs for medical purposes must be addressed.


“Regulations should not limit distribution of prescribed medicines for those in need, so that patients do not become hostage to restrictive national regulations. Access to medicines is an integral part of the right to health.”


Senator O’Reilly’s report also explored how the increased prescribing of psychotropic drugs across Europe during the Covid-19 pandemic had a damaging effect.


“These increases likely reflect the significant psychological impact of the Covid-19 outbreak – with emotional changes such as increasing worry, sadness, fear, and loneliness – its social, professional, and economic consequences, and the restricted availability of talking therapies during lockdowns.


“The effects and implications of the pandemic are concerning. Studies have already revealed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on drug markets, use, harms, and services.


“There were supply shortages of numerous street drugs, such as opioids, price increases for consumers on the black market, and reductions in purity.


“These issues, in combination with general economic stress, may have encouraged shifts to different, and sometimes riskier, drug-using behaviours.”


Senator O’Reilly’s report has been accepted by the Assembly and its recommendations have been approved by the Committee of Ministers.


The recommendations include that Council of Europe member states should develop national guidelines on the proper use of prescribed medicines with addictive potential; a recommendation on the rights of patients in relation to the use of prescription medicines, including the right to effective access and availability of essential medicines; and that the allocation of funds for holistic treatments are prioritised for issues such as non-malignant chronic pain, depression, sleep and anxiety disorders, instead of traditionally prescribed medicines with addictive potential.


Senator O’Reilly concluded: “I am convinced that the topic of addiction to prescribed medicines should be given a higher priority in Europe.


“Prescription drug addiction is a serious problem that affects many people, and it is important that we take action to address it. I hope that this report will help to raise awareness and lead to better regulation and monitoring of prescription drugs in Europe.”




Link to report:

Doc. 15454 – Report – Details tab (

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