Calls to tackle painkiller addiction after tragedy

James Novis pictured at the Hastings Observer offices. 21/3/13
James Novis pictured at the Hastings Observer offices. 21/3/13

CALLS have been made for more support for patients on prescription drugs after a young woman overdosed on pain killers she had become addicted to.

Kerry Anne Novis, 25, was found dead in her bed by her husband at their flat in Pevensey Road.

An inquest heard on Wednesday heard how she had taken eight times the normal level of a prescribed painkiller.

Her husband James told the hearing at Hastings Magistrates Court how she told him she felt like she was “addicted to the drugs.”

Local author Cathryn Kemp, who wrote a book about her experience called Painkiller Addict, told The Observer: “The tragedy of Kerry’s death shows us what happens and it is a scandal of our times that we cannot and do not offer support and structured professional help to addicts to help them off these drugs.

“We all think the drugs prescribed to us by our doctors are ‘safe’ but Kerry’s story, and my own, show us they are potential killers.

“They are potent drugs and it is time we recognised this before anyone else’s life ends in the same way as Kerry’s.”

The court heard how James called in paramedics after finding his wife making gurgling noises in bed around 10.40am on February 13.

Paramedics tried to resusitate her but their efforts were in vain.

The court was told how Kerry had a long history of being prescribed pain killing drugs and sleeping tablets.

In October she had surgery to remove an abcess from her back and was given Tramadol.

She was seen by her GP Robert Cameron-Wood the week before she died who said he was not happy about Mrs Novis being on Tramadol.

Under questioning by Coroner Alan Craze, Dr Cameron-Wood said he was concerned about the number of pain killers that she had.

The doctor revealed that she had taken an overdose in December 2011.

Mr Craze said:”It’s a chronic history. She overdosed on Oxycodone. Was an addiction recognised?”

Dr Cameron-Wood replied: “Yes.”

Mr Craze asked:”What do you think the cause of the pain was?”

The doctor replied: “It’s hard to say because she did not turn up for any of the appointments.”

Mr Craze said: “Were you able to get to the bottom of it?”

“No” said the doctor. “She was seen by a psychiatrist after the overdose.”

Mr Craze asked:”The main concern was the degree of addiction to powerful drugs.”

The doctor replied “Yes. There was nothing to suspect she would do that.”

A statement by James said that once a week she would take more than the prescribed amount.

Toxicology tests revealed that Kerry had eight times the optimum therapeutic limit of Oxycodone when she died.

There was also the presence of pain relief drugs and sleeping tablets.

Mr Craze said the use of Oxycodone would have made the other drugs in her system more dangerous.

A post mortem concluded Kerry died from a fatal toxicity of ingestion of drugs.

Coroner Alan Craze ruled Kerry’s death was caused by a dependency on prescriptive drugs.

Dr Steve Brinksman, clinical director of the Substance Misuse Management in General Practice organisation, said:

“Addiction to medicines is increasingly being recognised as a growing problem.

“There are a lot of patients who move almost imperceptibly from mild to moderate to strong prescribed opioids.

“It is important that practices develop consistent policies to address this.

“For example our practice has now brought in a system whereas any patient who is about to have strong opioid analgesia added as a repeat,

should be discussed with a colleague and this documented so we can audit the concordance.”

Dr Greg Wilcox, chief clinical officer of Hastings and Rother NHS Clinical Commissioning Group,said: “People taking strong medication for chronic pain should attend their surgery for regular medication reviews and always take any medication as directed.

“Oxycodone is prescribed because it is a very effective pain killer, sometimes used when other simpler pain relief has not worked.

“However, it can be addictive and for this reason should be taken only as prescribed by a GP. Patients should always

attend GP appointments so there are regular reviews and medication can be adjusted as appropriate.”