A leading pathologist has called for a prescription painkiller to be reclassified as a class-A drug.

Professor Jack Crane, state pathologist for Northern Ireland, claims Tramadol, which is taken legally for pain relief, is more deadly than heroin and cocaine. The medication can be prescribed by doctors but some people buy the drug on the black market and abuse it by mixing it with alcohol or other substances.

In 2014 Tramadol was made a class-C drug, which means it is illegal to possess the drug without a proper prescription from a health professional. But Prof Crane thinks it needs to be upgraded to class A so people realise how potentially dangerous it is.

In an interview with ITV News, he said: “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.”

In 2015, more people in Northern Ireland died after taking Tramadol than any other drug. The 33 victims included a 16-year-old girl and a man in his seventies.

Problem has increased in recent years

Fourteen years earlier, in 2001 there were just two deaths related to the drug in Northern Ireland, indicating that it is a growing problem. In the UK as a whole, 240 deaths were linked to Tramadol in 2014.

Tramadol, which is an opiate like heroin and morphine, is sold by drug dealers to people who want to take the medication without a prescription.

Prof Crane is now planning to meet the Chief Medical Officer in Northern Ireland to argue that more needs to be done to stop people misusing Tramadol and buying and selling it illegally.

He said: “The view perhaps is that people die from taking drugs like heroin and morphine and so forth. But our work shows that in fact tramadol is the big one. It’s the killer.”

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