Prescription medicines in demand for illegal highs

22:56, Oct 17 2012

Selling or forging prescriptions is a "major issue" in Canterbury, with morphine and Ritalin being most in demand on the black market, police say.

An annual study of trends in drug use has found the number of drug users using someone else's prescription and "doctor shopping" to obtain drugs increased from 9 per cent in 2008 to 30 per cent last year.

Doctor shopping is when people visit several GPs in order to obtain the maximum quantity of drugs.

The 2011 illicit drug monitoring study was carried out by researchers at Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation and the Whariki Research Centre at Massey University. More than 370 drug users from Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington were involved in the study.

Lead researcher Dr Chris Wilkins said the misuse of pharmaceuticals was a problem in many countries.

"Our findings indicate increasing use of pharmaceutical opioids [painkillers], such as oxycodone, by frequent illegal-drugs users in New Zealand," he said.


"It is a complicated problem, though, as we need to balance making pharmaceuticals readily available to those in need with reducing their inappropriate use."

Detective Senior Sergeant Brian Archer, of Christchurch's organised crime unit, said drug users had been selling and forging prescriptions to obtain drugs "for a while" and it remained a major problem.

"Either people are getting those products [morphine and Ritalin] legitimately on the scripts themselves or they are speaking to someone who has got a script and getting the medicines off them," he said.

A 60-milligram morphine tablet would fetch about $60 on the black market in Christchurch, he said.

"So if someone has 30 tablets for a month and they don't need them, well, that's all it takes, unfortunately."

He said police had been targeting the script-holder as well as the drug user.

"If people are going to take the risk and sell their scripts on, then they have to know that they will be held accountable," he said.

Canterbury Community Pharmacy Group general manager Graeme Smith was unaware of drug users presenting other people's prescriptions, but "that doesn't mean it's not happening".

"The issue we see more of, and an issue we are working with police on, is when people forge prescriptions, take it to several places and we dispense it," he said.

Forged prescriptions could be "very sophisticated" and would allow a person to obtain drugs from several pharmacies.

Smith said the group would look at the report and see what else could be done,

The report also found that the use of synthetic cannabis products, such as Kronic and Spice, increased from 10 per cent in 2010 to 41 per cent among meth users in 2011.

Wilkins said the most common drugs used for the first time by users in 2011 included ecstasy, oxycodone (a medical painkiller), anti-depressants, Ritalin and synthetic cannabis.

The availability of methamphetamine, known as P, had declined, particularly in Christchurch, the study found.

Archer said P and organised crime were "major focuses" for Christchurch police.

The Press