The UK tabloid press is currently in a feeding frenzy over the story that Anthony McPartlin, one half of TV presenting duo Ant and Dec, has entered rehab, partly as a result of an alleged addiction to Tramadol, a semi-synthetic opioid.
Tramadol is a staple in the painkilling armoury of many people suffering chronic pain. In the case of Anthony McPartlin, it seems that he was initially prescribed Tramodol for pain following knee surgery.
As a result of this story, the press has been quick to seek out other stories of addiction to prescription opioids. Today’s Daily Mail carries a story with the emotive headline “Like Ant, I became addicted to opioid painkillers prescribed by doctors… and it ruined by life: Cathryn tells how easy it is to fall victim to these drugs” and several papers report comments yesterday by TV presenter Lorraine Kelly; this from the Mirror, “Lorraine Kelly sends love to Ant McPartlin in rehab – and opens up about taking same prescription painkiller that left him addicted“.
In recent articles, Libby Parfitt has explored the terrible and sometimes tragic effect on chronic pain sufferers in the US of America’s current war on opioids. With the sort of (dare I say unbalanced) reporting we are seeing today in the UK, it is all too easy to envisage a snowball effect – press interest escalates, the Department of Health are asked to comment, politicians jump on the easy-publicity bandwagon etc.
Only a couple of days ago, I was contacted by a campaigning physician in the US, to whom I replied that opioids are “not the big issue in the UK” that they have become in the US. I sincerely hope I was not tempting fate.