Changing the conversation about health

Prescription drugs addiction is increasing in England, say health chiefs

The number of people in the UK taking strong painkillers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills long-term is rising, health chiefs have warned.

In a new review by Public Health England, research found that 25 per cent of adults regularly use such prescription drugs, with at least half of them saying they’d been taking them for over a year.

Public Health England medical director Professor Paul Cosford said the latest statistics were concerning and suggested patients were becoming ‘dependent’ on prescription drugs.

Public Health England says the number of people ‘dependent’ on prescription drugs – including anti-depressants, sleeping tablets and strong painkillers – is increasing

He said often such medicines were being used for longer than was ‘clinically’ appropriate: “These medicines have many vital clinical uses and can make a big difference to people’s quality of life. We need to make sure people are helped to access alternative treatments.”

In February this year, The Sunday Times highlighted the dramatic increase in the use of opioids, with addiction rates – including overdoses and deaths – surging in line with a huge rise in the number of painkillers being prescribed.

Analysis of recent NHS data suggests opioid use in the UK has risen by 10million in a decade, with doctors prescribing 41.4million strong painkillers in 2017

Analysis carried out by the Sunday Times in February 2019

In May, a new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Addressing Problematic Opioid Use in 35 OECD Countries, suggested urgent action needs to be taken to stem the crisis in major leading global economies.

The US has long acknowledged it has a problem when it comes to over-prescribing strong opioids, with more than 91,000 people losing their lives over the last two years to the growing epidemic.

GPs often feel like there’s no alternative to prescribing such drugs, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, said in light of PHE’s report

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, said, in light of the Public Health England report, that doctors sometimes felt powerless when managing long-term pain in patients, saying the latest research ‘indicates the severe lack of alternatives.’

NHS England said increased investment was being made in social prescribing including prescribing patients with activities such as exercise classes, gardening and therapy.