Social media sites 'make addictive medication easier to buy'
Addiction psychiatrist Dr Colin O'Gara believes social media sites have "opened the door" for prescription drug dealers to thrive.
Dr O'Gara, who is the clinical lead for addiction services at St John of God Hospital, Dublin, says it's now easier to purchase illegal narcotics online than ever before.
"In previous times it would mainly be young, computer savvy people that would use the internet to purchase drugs," he said. "We've noticed that this is not the case anymore.
"All age groups are doing it now as sites like Facebook make these addictive meds easier to find and buy.
"Over the past five years we've seen a steady increase with the number people seeking help, especially for opioid addiction.
"This would most likely be due to how accessible they've become over the internet."
Dr O'Gara said many of his patients got addicted to powerful pain relief drugs for different reasons. "Using codeine-based products and other opioids for genuine, pain relief purposes may sometimes lead to people taking increased amounts, which can often start the addiction cycle," he said.
"Sometimes it's get so severe people need to be substituted onto heavier drugs like methadone or morphine, which is becoming increasingly popular."
Dr O'Gara said Ireland had recently seen the introduction of fentanyl - a powerful anaesthetic that has caused chaos in the US.
"The fentanyl crisis has gotten so bad over there that the government has declared a state of emergency due to deaths occurring every seven hours.
"Heroin is powerful and people die of overdoses all the time, but when I read that fentanyl is about 50 times stronger I just couldn't believe it.
"It's very small and easy to package and conceal so you can imagine the international profit these drug dealers and manufacturers are making."