Illegal Use of Seroquel Increases
An interesting article from Channel 9 News in Melbourne discussed the increasing illegal use of the bipolar and schizophrenia medication Seroquel (quetiapine) in Australia, a problem that is increasing throughout the world. Seroquel is abused for its sedative effects, something that, ironically, is a common complaint among legitimate users. In Melbourne, the number of annual ambulance visits related to abuse of Seroquel has increased from 32 to 598 between 2000 and 2010. Seroquel therefore has joined other commonly abused prescription drugs like Oxycontin and Xanax as a growing health concern. In response, Australia is setting up a $5 million data base, which will begin in July. The goal is to keep track of who is prescribed what, preventing people from getting double prescriptions that are then sold on the black market.
The statistic that ambulance visits have increased since 2000 should not be surprising. After all, the drug was only approved for schizophrenia in 1997 and for bipolar disorder in 2004. As a result, there is simply much more quetiapine available than in the past, and the increase in abuse may simply be commensurate with its increased availability.
What is more worrying is that this is occurring at all. It creates a real problem for people with bipolar disorder, many of whom have financial problems, as it creates the temptation to either illegally get multiple prescriptions or sell medication that they actually need. This can be dangerous, both because the world of illegal drugs is dangerous and because not being medicated is dangerous. In addition, it creates the need to prove that one actually needs the drug when seeking a prescription. Have you tried to get a pain killer lately? You’ll spend at least fifteen minutes actually trying to prove to people that you’re in pain. This can be both a humiliating and stressful experience.
As a result, databases like the one in Australia are a good idea, but they risk cutting off the supply only to increase the price and therefore the temptation. What is really needed is increased investment in preventing and curing addiction, which would cut off the demand.