Prescription painkiller Tramadol, taken by thousands of people every day, is claiming more lives than any other drug – including heroin and cocaine – according to Northern Ireland’s top pathologist.
The painkiller doesn’t cause harm if taken correctly, but the danger rises when users mix it with other drugs or alcohol.
Last year, 33 deaths in Northern Ireland were linked to tramadol. Among them were a 16-year-old girl and a pensioner in his 70s.
"I don't think that people realise how potentially risky taking tramadol is.
I think it’s because it’s a prescription drug - people assume it’s safe."
– PROFESSOR JACK CRANE, STATE PATHOLOGIST FOR NI
The opiate-based drug used to treat moderate or severe pain should only be available on prescription – it was reclassified in 2014 making it an illegal Class C drug without prescription.
But anti-drug campaigners say more and more people are turning to the black market.
Professor Jack Crane has spoken out to say he fears more people will die unless urgent action is taken and he is calling for a crackdown on the illegal market.
He wants tramadol to be upgraded again, this time to Class A.
Professor Crane is now set to meet Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer later this month to push for change.