THE boss of a drug treatment centre today warned painkillers were becoming a 'bigger problem than heroin' after it was revealed how a fitness instructor with severe back problems died after overdosing on medication.
Noreen Oliver, head of the Burton Addiction Centre in Station Street, put out the alert to people taking painkillers and buying drugs over the internet.
She spoke of their addictive properties after an inquest heard that Mark Hearn, of Lilac Close, Stapenhill, had died after taking high levels of painkillers to try to treat a back problem.
South Staffordshire Coroner's Court, at Burton Town Hall, was told how the 38-year-old's pain had become so bad that he had resorted to going to out-of-hours medical clinics and buying medication online.
Mrs Oliver told the Mail: "Issues with over-the-counter medicines and drugs purchased over the internet are becoming a bigger problem than heroin, in my opinion.
"People can become addicted to painkillers, whether they are prescribed by a doctor or bought over the counter.
"I would implore people to make sure they ask if the painkillers they are being given can be addictive and, if so, ask for an alternative medicine.
"In terms of drugs being bought online, people should avoid these at all costs.
"They can feature all manner of things, including household items such as bleach, and do more damage than good.
"I would urge people to ensure they get professional help before it is too late."
Mr Hearn died at his home on February 18 after taking high levels of painkillers for his back, although the inquest ruled there was no indication he intended to take his own life.
He had been left unable to work for the last year due to bulging discs at the base of his spine, and had even been crushing the painkillers and inhaling them in a bid to relieve the pain.
Dr A Wong, his GP, said Mr Hearn had overdosed on medication in 2010, and he was suspicious that he was overusing his medication again.
Detective Sergeant Mark Underwood, of Burton CID, said there was no suggestion Mr Hearn had intended to take his own life, or of any third party involvement.
However, Mr Hearn had used out-of-hours clinics and the internet to get hold of more medication.
A toxicology report found he had high levels of both diazepam and oxycodone in his blood, as well as an enlarged heart.
South Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh recorded a verdict of self-administered overdose of medication.