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Rising levels of opioid prescriptions puts NHS under pressure

Published on 16/03/18 at 10:24am

It has been found that the number of prescriptions being written for opioid painkillers has risen from 10 million to 23.8 million, from 2007 to 2017.

The investigation was conducted by the BBC and has sparked fears that the UK may be heading in a similar direction to the US, which has had to declare a national emergency over opioid abuse.

Particularly worrying are the regional differences between levels of prescriptions, with the poorer areas in the north of England being the most likely to receive higher numbers of prescription painkillers.

It has been previously found that nine of ten of highest prescribing areas are located in the north of England. The BBC report identified Cumbria and the North East as having the highest levels of prescription per resident, with London and South Central having the fewest, according to NHS Digital figures.

Alongside this were the revelations that the number of people entering hospitals for overdoses linked to opioids has risen by 85% in the last decade. In addition, there were 2,038 deaths due opioids in England and Wales, which represents an increase on figures recorded in 2012, when just over 1,200 deaths were recorded.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:

“GPs take prescribing any medication incredibly seriously and will do so based on the physical, psychological and social factors potentially impacting on the health of the patient in front of them, and in line with current clinical guidelines – they will never prescribe simply as a ‘quick fix’ solution.

“Opioids can be very effective painkillers for new onset or longer term conditions. However, for patients living with chronic pain they do have associated risks – including addiction - and GPs will discuss these with patients before jointly making the decision to prescribe them. GPs will also monitor patients to ensure that the treatment is proving beneficial.”

Estimates currently suggest that the number of addicts living in the UK could be as many as 300,000. The major concern is that powerful synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are becoming more popular. The drug is available cheaply and is also 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

The drug is one of the principal drivers of the opioid epidemic in the US and also a leading reason for death due to drug abuse.

Ben Hargreaves

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