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Former Crossmaglen GP opens up about his drug addiction

March 14, 2016

A former Crossmaglen-based GP has opened up about his addiction to prescription drugs and credits the recovery programme with Narcotics Anonymous for helping him overcome the habit.

Dr. Liam Farrell, from Rostrevor, ran his GP practice from Crossmaglen Health Centre from the late 1980s for more than twenty years.  In 2007 he was convicted of the theft of diamorphine and cyclimorph, which he used to feed his habit.  He was temporarily suspended from practicing and received a six-month sentence, suspended for 18 months, for the crime.

On Thursday last, Dr. Farrell gave his first interview on the Ryan Tubridy RTE radio show, during which he spoke candidly about his battle with morphine addiction and how it led him to consider his future in the medical profession.

Revealing that he first became dependent on the drug in the late 1990s while working to establish his practice, the former GP admitted that the long hours contributed to his addiction, which at its worst, saw him injecting an ampoule of morphine several times each week.

“Unfortunately about ten years into practice I developed an addiction to morphine. Doctors are given the responsibility and authority to regulate this immensely powerful substance which has tremendous power for good but also can potentially cause tremendous damage. I began to use morphine and became addicted to it,” he admitted.

“At the time I was working every second night in Crossmaglen and it was very busy. The Troubles weren’t at their height at that time, but they were busy enough. I was writing intensely for a number of journals and when you’re offered work you have to take it.”

Dr. Farrell, a leading columnist for medical publications, was, at the time, also working as a postgraduate tutor in palliative care.

Admitting that he began using morphine to help deal with his workload, he told the radio show listeners: “I have no memory of the first time I decided to use morphine. It’s a pivotal moment of my life and the start of my self-destruction.

“I would have used one every couple of months, one ampoule. I would have injected the morphine.  I never thought I shouldn’t be doing it. Initially I was doing it so rarely. Initially I was using it every four or five months. It was just an occasional diversion but I didn’t think of it as an addiction.

“Eventually I got to the stage where I was using it once or twice or week. Then it got to a stage where I was experiencing withdrawal effects and that was like a sledgehammer hitting me. And that is when I realised I was a morphine addict,” he said.

Recalling the time his theft of the drugs was discovered, he continued: “I stole them from my colleague’s bag, which was a terrible breach of trust and a guilt that I have to carry with me and eventually I was found out.

“I was bitterly ashamed and so full of self loathing because I had been given another chance. Everybody had showed great faith in me and I had let them down.”

Seeking help for his addiction, Dr. Farrell described his withdrawal from morphine as “the most frightening thing that ever happened to me”.

“I was frightened of not having the drug. I was frightened of the withdrawal. I was frightened of what it was doing to my health and my family and my children and my job.  I was frightened all the time.  There is an intolerable anxiety,” he said.

The doctor credited Narcotics Anonymous with helping him overcome his addiction and said there is something to be learned from sharing experiences with other addicts.

“I used to go to Narcotics Anonymous and I was a different species almost from other people at it. They were all young street addicts and I had a family to go home to and a job. To see some of the self-discipline they showed it was humbling. I used to meet them afterwards and I was 25 years older than them and they were giving me advice.”

With the support of his family and friends, Dr. Farrell has recovered from his addiction and, having left the medical profession, now concentrates on his writing.

His interview with Ryan Tubridy is available on RTE podcasts at http://www.rte.ie/radio1/ryan-tubridy/podcasts/.

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