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Man tells how five-year wait for shoulder surgery has left him addicted to painkillers

Thomas Mullholland is a diabetic who has been prescribed the drug Tramadol for the past five years. Picture by Mal McCann.
Seanín Graham

A CO Armagh man who has been on a five-year waiting list for shoulder surgery has been referred to an addiction clinic to wean him off a powerful prescribed painkiller.

Thomas Mullholland (54), a former landscape gardener from Lurgan, has built up such a tolerance to the morphine-based drug Tramadol that it is no longer easing his crippling pain.

A qualified horticulturalist, who had to stop working due to his debilitating condition, Mr Mulholland said he tried to reduce his reliance on the highly addictive medication by going 'cold turkey' and taking himself off it completely - with devastating consequences.

"I basically became suicidal and suffered severe bouts of depression. Physically the pain was unbearable," he said.

"The reason I went off the drug was because I had read about it dangerous it was and so many deaths were linked to it as it was so addictive."

His GP told told him he must gradually phase out the medical to cut down on the potential for adverse side effects - such as convulsive fits - and must now attend addiction services.

Mr Mulholland has suffered from Type 1 diabetes for 45 years and injects insulin daily.

He lost his 38 year-old brother to the condition almost 20 years ago after he lapsed into a diabetic coma.

Eight years ago the Lurgan man was forced to give up work and began to develop 'frozen shoulder' linked to his diabetes, which has caused excruciating limb pain and rendered him motionless.

"Two nights ago it got so bad I sat on the edge of the bed all night and could not sleep. I rang the out-of-hours GP but they could do nothing. As for work, I cannot even lift up a couple of secateurs," he said.

"Doctors recently told me I was top of the waiting list but I still haven't got a date.

"If I had got the operation five years ago my life could have been very different. Instead I must go to addiction services which I don't think is the right place for me.

"I don't drive and must arrange transport to travel the 20 miles to the clinic."

Tramodol is one of the most commonly prescribed painkilling drugs in Northern Ireland, with more than 400,000 scripts issued annually.

A Belfast GP, who also chairs an addiction charity said as surgery waiting lists spiral, doctors have no choice but to resort to prescribing strong painkilling medication.

"Patients who have a reliance on antidepressants for mental health problems now have the alternative of going to talking therapies and we can refer them to these services," said Dr George O'Neill.

"But for someone in chronic pain waiting for surgery, prescribing powerful opiate based drugs such as Tramadol is the only tool we have. It is symptomatic of a system that isn't working," said Dr O'Neill.

The former state pathologist for Northern Ireland has warned that not enough is being done to tackle the abuse of the prescription drug Tramadol.

 

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