Why I love to hook my patients on painkillers

There is a scene in Fawlty Towers where Sybil is once again hectoring Basil, and quivering with barely suppressed maniacal rage he replies, 'Of course, how could I have made such a mistake; there was me thinking it was your fault, when it was my fault all the time.'

I understood how Basil felt as I read last Sunday's front page headline in The Observer. With all the important things going on in the world - Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan; the risk of the most powerful nation on earth being controlled by another gibbering idiot; penguins, polar bears and wildlife documentary makers in danger of extinction - what did this reputedly high-brow newspaper lead with? (I used to take The Observer every week until its travel correspondent recommended Bach's homoeopathic flower remedies as a good cure for jet lag and tiredness and I reckoned that if the rest of its correspondents were as gullible I'd be better off with a tabloid).

'GPs addicting patients to painkillers,' it thundered, reporting on a parliamentary inquiry, apparently the most important thing that had happened this week.

There it is, it's our fault; it's a fair cop, we've been rumbled. 'Take these painkillers,' we are urging our patients, 'and then keep coming back and torturing us week after week.' Yeah, there's a lot in it for us all right.

An MP, Dr Brian Iddon (a former chemist, apparently, so he must know what he's talking about), said we are prescribing 'without checking how long they've been on the drugs'. And GPs 'are not stopping patients from getting any more of them after a set amount of time'.

Listen 'Doctor', for all your experience of developing photographs and flogging aftershave, we know they've been taking them for, like, forever, but stopping them getting their painkillers, hypnotics and anxiolytics would require physical force, maybe necessitate bringing the army home from Iraq.

We are also, apparently, 'not taking seriously enough requests for help from addicts'. In my 20 years of practice, I've never had an addict request help to stop any of the above, though if the government wants to introduce a compulsory withdrawal programme, I'm fine with that.

But I forget, it's our fault; maybe we should offer them flower remedies instead.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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