Over the Counter Addiction: Pharmacy hopping in Wiltshire, UK

November 25, 2014 • Chuck News, Culture, Europe • Views: 2984

Words and Pictures: 

James Bailey

As I sit down to write the palms of my hands clam up. My legs feel like they are encased in solid concrete blocks. My nose runs, and pores sweat. I am rough as fuck.

It’s been about a day and a half since I last took the one thing that I know will stop me feeling this way, the one thing that continually and reliably gives me relief and lifts my spirits.

That one thing is Nurofen Plus.

I’ve been addicted to these little white devils for about a year now, which isn’t really that long compared to others I know who have been on them for more than a decade.

For me, it all started when a friend was on medication for back pain and offered me prescribed pills that he called ‘my happy pills’. I had always been into experimenting with recreational drugs, and was going through a stage of  particularly heavy use at the time, so I thought ‘why not.’ I was pretty grateful he just gave me them for free to be honest.

It proved to be the catalyst that would start a chain of events that saw me almost lose my job, the respect of people I love and a small part of myself.

The pills I were given were prescription strength paracetamol and codeine sulphate 500/30mg (500 paracetamol 30 codeine).  The reason they are effective in relieving moderate to severe pain is because of the codeine, which is a weak opiate. That’s also the thing that, when taken considerably more than the recommended dose, gets you high.

Codeine converts into to morphine in the liver, but does so at a low rate. Hence why you have to take quite a lot of the 500/30 mix to feel a real buzz. I found 150 mg (5 tablets) was sufficient for a blissed out evening, at the start at least.

The trouble with taking said amount is that you end up with 2.5g of unwanted paracetamol in your system as well, which obviously puts on your liver and other internal organs a very dangerous amount of strain.

In fact, a drinking buddy of mine who also abuses codeine was rushed to hospital about a month ago because he had taken ten of them in an evening on top of having a few pints.

His tolerance was high and he didn’t feel any effect until too late. He nearly died.

I must admit I did enjoy the buzz I got from the pills at first. Being from the opiate family (morphine, heroin, tramadol and methadone are also members) I found that it instantly elevated my mood, made me feel relaxed and warm, with increased sociability and creativity.

Moods and feelings I desired greatly.

After briefly looking online I found there was an abundance of websites offering cheap and easily accessible codeine. I had a field day. To many codeine addicts, ‘Codeine Linctus’ cough syrup is the best stuff around. It costs as little as £2.99 a bottle and usually contains 600 ml of the stuff, more than enough for a casual user to get a buzz.

Plus it is free of the paracetamol and ibuprofen which you find mixed in with the tablets.

Sensibly, all reputable websites limit the number of bottles you can buy of the syrup to one or two per week. You can, of course, get round that by using multiple websites to get your fix.

At the start of my addiction I would usually have two days a week in which I would set aside an evening in which to indulge in an entire bottle.

I never gave much thought about the long term risks and increasing tolerance. The general sense of wellbeing and euphoria I experienced was sufficient to make me ignorant enough.

Cut a long story short, the more my tolerance increased, the more I used it in day to day settings in an attempt to achieve the same high. I would take 100 mg in the morning to fix the shakes, 250mg mid­way through work for a mood boost, or even on public transport to make the ride seem less tedious.

As I took larger and larger doses to achieve the same buzz, I found myself increasingly impatient to wait for the postman to deliver my little bottles of brief relief.

This is when I got into pharmacy hopping, which is basically using multiple pharmacies to obtain as much codeine as possible. I knew I was putting myself at great risk by going down this route, especially without using a technique known as a Cold Water Extraction*.

I had found that the maximum amount of codeine per pill that is legal to buy is 12.3mg and Neurofen Plus was the only brand I found that contained such an amount (I later discovered many pharmacies stock their own, just as potent versions of these, for a cheaper price)

So that became the next incarnation of my codeine addiction, stuffing as many nurofen down my mouth to the achieve the buzz I wanted.

It started with maybe 8­12 pills in a day, but I initially found the amount of ibuprofen I was ingesting was making me feel sick. However, I soon got used to this feeling, even started to enjoy it, and soon found myself taking between 30 ­ 60 over a single day, pretty much every day of the week.

I began each morning dashing to the bathroom, gagging with cold sweats, and throwing up putrid bile from an empty stomach. I would regularly skip meals as the tablets were making me not feel hungry and over the course of a few months became physically and mentally withdrawn. I would go through hell if I couldn’t get my fix.

At first the whole pharmacy hopping thing was easy. I would confidently walk in to any of the four pharmacies in my town (albeit with a slight look of forced pain etched into my face) ask for a packet of Nurofen Plus, claiming I’d ‘done my back in at work’ and firmly answered the standard questions you get asked every time (Are these for yourself? Are you on any other medication? Are you aware they are for before or after food and no more than three days continuous use) blah blah blah. All I wanted was the pills, then I’d usually take 8 in one go with a pint of strong cider, and wait half an hour to feel normal again.

I would repeat this process, alternating pharmacies so it never seemed as though I was using one too much. This worked for about a month before certain staff clocked on and I was challenged and refused a couple of times.

That’s when I had to up my game. An addict will go to quite some lengths to get their fix. Considering I needed to buy at least a box a day I had to start going out of town to increase my chances of the seller not recognising me.

Every time I went to a new town I would visit every pharmacy and get as much as I could, money permitting, to save the hassle of getting served at home.

And with the Pharmacies near and around me I began making notes on what days and time certain sellers worked, who was more diligent with handing them over and who didn’t care.

There was one lad who didn’t have a clue and without fail he sold me at least one box, and the same the next day.

Others looked at me like I was a junky and obviously knew what I was going to use them for.

I didn’t like the way they looked at me of course, but as soon as I had my pills I didn’t care anymore.

The most shocking aspect of this addiction was quite how quickly my tolerance grew. Looking back I never meant to get addicted and only recently have realised I have a problem.

It’s a silent killer, the old pain killer addiction. It’s definitely more easy to keep under the radar than say, a alcohol or cocaine addiction (both of which I have been addicted to) because you don’t smell of it, it’s relatively cheap, it’s perfectly normal to see someone knock back a headache pill in public, and most of all it’s legal.


The hardest part is getting rid of all the packaging when you are taking 60 pills a day. I had drawers full of empty packets, that I would scrounge through in the hope there were a few unbroken seals when I had missed when in need of a hit. It’s a problem that’s increasing rapidly in this country as well.

At this point as a nation we are using codeine based products more than ever in our history.

This can be seen on the shelves in the shops, as I have noticed more than a couple of places repeatedly running out much quicker than anticipated.

The scary thing is, even if I went to a pharmacy and they did not have any codeine, there are still products for less than £2 which closest chemical cousins are P.C.P (angel dust) and Ketamine. An example being Dextromethorphan (DXM) in cough syrups you have probably used at some point, and which in high doses will produce anything from mild to full on L.S.D style hallucinations.

Not to mention Diphenhydramine, found in sleeping pills.That is really scary stuff.

Of course taking the required amount to get an effect from these chemicals is a very dangerous and stupid thing to do.

But it’s really not that much different from when you used to be able to buy cocaine and heroin from your friendly local pharmacist. In fact, with the influx of chemical research websites offering a huge array of potent substances, all legally, and for those familiar with bitcoin and willing to spend half a day finding the new Silk Road in the ‘deep web’, I would argue it’s never been easier for anyone to buy whatever the hell they want.

I’m going through rehab now and am working to becoming drug free. But it’s taken a lot of rock bottom moments to reach this point, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Yet we live in a Britain where the ‘war on drugs’ is supposedly working. That’s probably because most of the dangerous and addictive drugs are legal now anyway.

* Cold Water Extraction is a D.I.Y way of extracting pure codeine from your mix, in an attempt to avoid flooding your system with dangerous amounts of paracetamol. Paracetamol is soluble in water, codeine is not.

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