Nicki Hari became addicted to painkillers after nine operations on her knees
Nicki spent years addicted to Tramadol, the same powerful opiate-based painkiller that caused the I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! presenter to check himself into rehab last weekend.
Ant, 41, chose to go public with the fact that he was suffering from addiction, following a bout of depression and chronic pain brought on by a “botched” knee operation two years ago and Nicki has a strikingly similar tale to tell
“Ant’s admission made me realise how this illness affects all people from all walks of life,” says the 49-year-old, from Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, whose substance abuse really took hold after she underwent nine painful operations to treat worn cartilage in both her knees before she turned 25.
Nicki first started “enjoying” the painkillers and sleeping pills she was prescribed after undergoing surgeries to remove her tonsils and appendix as a teenager.
However, it was her chronic knee pain and repeated operations that ultimately led to her “lowest point”.
I was like a walking zombie. I was unhappy and just numbed myself
She recalls taking up to 20 pills a day, including Tramadol, which she bought online if she could not get a GP’s prescription.
“If I ran out I really panicked,” she says. “I was like a walking zombie and friends began to say I wasn’t myself. I was depressed and didn’t go out.
“As soon as the feeling of the drug wore off, I was tearful and said that I was in pain so I could get more. I didn’t see it as a problem and didn’t consider myself to be an addict as I wasn’t using heroin in an alleyway.
Ant McPartlin checked himself into rehab last weekend
“I was unhappy and looking for a quick fix, and just numbed myself to get that warm and fuzzy feeling.”
Ant McPartlin and Nicki are by no means alone. Addiction to medicine cabinet drugs, such as tranquilisers, antidepressants and codeine have soared by 16 per cent in the past two years, according to research from the Universities of Zurich and Geneva.
They found that some prescription drugs, such as Valium and Xanax, use the same potentially addictive pathways in the brain as illegal drugs such as heroin.
Analysis carried out for the Sunday Express by Addiction Helper, which offers free advice on treatment options and receives 84,000 inquiries a year, shows that the number of people contacting them for help with addiction to prescription drugs now accounts for 10 per cent of inquiries.
It has also released data showing that in the past two years, admissions to treatment centres for over-thecounter painkillers such as codeine and benzodiazepines (nicknamed benzos), which is prescribed by GPs, rose 17 per cent.
It estimates up to 60 per cent of people addicted to street drugs or alcohol also have problems with long-term use of prescription medicines.
Harry Shapiro, director of Drug Wise and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence, says: “This is like a public health disaster hidden in plain sight.
“There are an escalating number of people on long-term prescription medications and overwhelming reports about a rise in addiction to these drugs. We urgently need to recognise this problem and address the fact that there are no dedicated services for people in this situation.”
Daniel Gerrard, founder of Addiction Helper, says: “The GP system is under huge pressure and doctors are more likely to give prescriptions for drugs rather than try to tackle the underlying cause.
“Doctors are so stretched they are also less likely to monitor patients for addiction. And even if they do take people off their prescriptions it is very easy to buy prescription drugs online.”
He chose to go public with the fact that he was suffering from addiction
Nicki Hari, now a mother-of-two, decided to take action seven years ago, when she read her 10-year-old son’s account of his summer holidays in his school book. It began: “We didn’t do anything because Mummy was ill in bed all the time.”
She says: “I realised I had become distant from my family. I had thought it was all OK because I was on a pink, fluffy cloud of drugs.”
In Ant McPartlin’s case, friends are said to have raised concerns about the star, who lives in Chiswick, west London, when he started combining the drug with alcohol following nights out. He is reported to have wept as he told his wife Lisa, 40, and long-time co-presenter Declan Donnelly, 41, of his addiction.
Last week, former child actor Ant apologised to his friends and family, saying: “I feel like I have let a lot of people down and for that I am truly sorry.
“I want to thank my wife, family and closest friends for helping me through this really difficult time.”
He will now spend at least two months receiving treatment in a specialist clinic, which is expected to involve a mixture of group counselling and one-to-one therapy sessions.
Along with Tramadol, highly addictive benzodiazepine sedatives had been taken by Hollywood’s Brokeback Mountain star Heath Ledger in the hours before his death in 2008, and soul singer Amy Winehouse, who died of alcohol poisoning in 2011.
Addiction to codeine and antidepressants is also common.
A recent study carried out at the University of Aberdeen has shown that a fifth of the population misuse non-prescription over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen for nonmedical purposes, such as for “sleep” and “relaxation”.
This survey of 434 randomly selected adults found that two per cent were dependent on the medicines, which can cause hallucinations, heart or fatal liver problems when abused.
In Nicki’s case, luckily her private health insurance funded a 28-day rehabilitation programme and she now no longer abuses drugs.
Nicki has trained as an addiction treatment counsellor to help others
“It changed my life and made me realise how unmanageable it was. Friends and family need to recognise when people have an addiction to prescription drugs and help them get the right treatment.
“The terrible thing is there is very little out there for them if they do not have their own funds for rehab.
“It can take as little as one week to become addicted to some powerful prescription drugs and withdrawal can make you feel very ill with flu-like symptoms, night sweats, shaking, tremors, pain, fear, and lack of concentration. It needs to be done carefully under specialist supervision.”
Nicki, who has since trained as an addiction treatment counsellor to help others, says: “Having been through the same trauma, I am sad for Ant. But I’m also pleased he has faced his demons and spoken publicly about a problem that has become so prevalent.”
For more information, please visit addictionhelper.com or call 0800 448 8688.