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Shocking tramadol statistics from Northern Ireland

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By Christopher McDowell
30 Sep 2011

What on earth is going on with tramadol prescribing? It can be addictive and it’s not recommended for long-term pain relief. So why in a small country like Northern Ireland have the number of prescriptions shot up over the years? This is a very brief look at the situation in Northern Ireland using pharmaceutical statistics from the Business Services Organisation(1) .

It is difficult to collate figures for all the different brands and strengths of tramadol that may have been prescribed in the past. With this in mind then, I shall be looking at Zamadol 50mg capsules, Zydol 50mg capsules and generic tramadol 50mg capsules.


Prescriptions written in 2000

Prescriptions written in 2010

Zamadol 50mg Capsules



Zydol 50mg Capsules



Tramadol 50mg Capsules



Total number of scripts




The increase is shocking. From 2007, there have been around 10,000 new prescriptions being written for tramadol 50mg capsules per annum, with an even greater increase in the years preceding this. Now, when we consider that the population of Northern Ireland in 2000 was 1.69 million and its most recent estimate in 2009 was 1.79 million(2),  it is evident that something is not quite right. These statistics don’t take into account the thousands and thousands of prescriptions written annually for the higher strength and modified release preparations either! The numbers are truly staggering.

Are more people getting addicted to tramadol? Are GPs struggling in practice and giving in to the demands of patients who have heard that tramadol is a very strong pain reliever? Does the patient really need tramadol? Has co-codamol stopped working?

The NHS is trying to be more cost effective by prescribing generic drugs. I don’t think prescribing more generic drugs is what the government had in mind!


      Population and Migration Estimates Northern Ireland (2009) – Statistical Report". Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency