Helen, 26, ordered codeine from several pharmacies while addicted to the painkiller
Last modified on Fri 26 Apr 2019 18.55 BST
Helen*, 26, used online pharmacies to buy codeine for about three years, although she no longer has a dependency. She began ordering the painkiller in 2016 after her partner killed himself.
“Someone gave me codeine at work one day when I was unwell and I enjoyed the sensation of it – and then I went to France and at the time you could get strong painkillers over the counter. My boyfriend took his own life, so I was in a really bad place and living away from home and family. I started taking the drug to cope,” she said.
While she could get the drug easily in France, back in the UK she found the best way to obtain it was through online regulated pharmacies.
“I had heard that you could get stuff online and gave it a go. It was surprisingly easy. I had a friend who used them [online pharmacies] and she said: ‘This is what you need to type in to get a prescription.’ I gave the same reason for needing the drugs each time, saying I’d had a pilonidal cyst removed. That should not take more than six months to heal, so you should not really need codeine beyond that.”
At her worst, she was taking 30 tablets a day. “I could take codeine and still do my job. Other drugs, such as cocaine, are more invasive – people would know I was on it – but codeine gives you euphoria to carry you through the day,” she said.
The main side-effect was oversleeping – sometimes she would sleep for 14 hours – which would affect her social life. She described the physical effects as like being given gas and air in hospital. “The feeling subsides after a few hours and just mellows out.”
Helen said that while most of the websites she ordered from stated that customers should not be using other online pharmacies, she used several. “They don’t communicate with each other as they are all different businesses, so there is no way that they would know if you were shopping around.
“I ordered from four pharmacies when I was doing it and could get up to 500 tablets a month if I wanted to.”
She still gets emails urging her to order again. “This is not something they should do. It’s not like getting food from a supermarket, but they will say things like: ‘Get a 10% discount off your next drugs order’.”
Helen gave up codeine because of the financial cost, she said.
“I was spending at least £300 on it back at my worst and I am in a really happy place with someone I love now and he was a massive support for me getting off it. Also, just healthwise, I wanted to feel better.”
She said it was hard to get help for her addiction and she eventually decided to undergo withdrawal herself, reducing the amount of codeine before stopping altogether. She sweated profusely and had stomach problems during the process.
“It was horrendous when I was withdrawing – sometimes I did not go to work as what I was going through would be so visible. I also did not go out. I would be sweating and then freezing cold. You could be stood outside and 5C and still dripping with sweat.”
* Not her real name