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The mother of two who fell victim to Britain's silent epidemic: the growing addiction to prescription painkillers

  • Nicki Hari talks to Julie Etchingham about her 20-year story of addiction to opioids

Think of a drug addict and I'm pretty sure the image in your mind wouldn't be a well-groomed mother of two in a smart house in the suburbs.

You’re also unlikely to think of someone whose addiction was effectively fed for years by her own GPs.

But Nicki Hari fell victim to a silent epidemic in the UK: a growing addiction to prescription painkillers, strong opioids whose names are familiar to all of us. Tramadol, co-codamol, fentanyl and a host of others.

Over the past decade in Britain, prescriptions for these drugs have gone through the roof - up 80% in England alone. We're now among the biggest consumers of opioids in Europe.

And the tragedy and irony is that while the drugs are super-effective for acute emergency pain, in 90% of long-term chronic pain cases, they don't even work.

Nicki's 20-year story of addiction started when she was just 18 with a succession of operations on her knee. With them came multiple prescriptions of opioid painkillers, and little by little she was hooked: the chilled out feeling and the slight numbing of reality just too easy and available in a box of pills.

Over the past decade, prescriptions of opioids have gone up 80% in England Credit: ITV Tonight

She started cheating the system to get more. She invented more illnesses, and had the pills hidden all over her house. The wake up call eventually came when her son told his teachers his mum had spent his whole summer holiday spaced out in bed - and her friends got her to rehab.

Her shocking story is one now familiar to addiction clinics across the UK who say they are treating record numbers and sounding big alarm bells.

Pain specialists are also trying to get to grips with the fact we've practically sleepwalked into a public health crisis: GPs under pressure to help their patients deal with pain and patients sometimes too in distress to find other strategies rather than popping the pills.

So how have we got here and how do we step back from the brink?

Is it time to radically rethink how we manage pain?

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