UK Prescription Medication Addiction Crisis

prescription medicationExperts fear that the UK’s addiction to prescription drugs is worsening with hundreds of thousands of adults believed to be hooked on regular medication. 

The review by Public Health England revealed that a quarter of UK adults use strong medication including opioid painkillers, antidepressants, z-drugs (insomnia), benzodiazepines (anxiety) and gabapentinoids (neuropathic pain).

Around half of those using them had been doing so for over 12 months, indicating signs of dependency – and a fifth had been on them for over 3 years.

Professor Paul Cosford, Medical Director at Public Health England, explained:

“These medicines have many vital clinical uses and can make a big difference to people’s quality of life.”

But highlighted that extended use was in too many cases not appropriate, saying:

“We need to make sure people are helped to access alternative treatments.”

Long-term use of opioid-based painkillers was particularly highlighted. These  should only be used for short periods but the report showed 1.2 million people had been using them for at least a year – 540,000 of whom had been taking them for at least three years – was extremely worrying.

Peter Burkinshaw at PHE said:

“The long-term prescribing of opioid pain medicines and benzodiazepines is not supported by guidelines and is not effective.”

Advice for Patients on Long-Term Medication

  • Public Health England advised patients to speak to their GP for a medication review and assessment of other options
  • Experts suggested exploring any suitable alternatives to medication, such as talking therapies are suggested as suitable alternatives for mild to moderate depression. Physio or exercise may help with physical conditions and pain
  • PHE advised patients NOT to stop taking the drugs without seeking help or advice
  • Drugs such as these are generally withdrawn gradually and with medical advice

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