PHE launches review into prescription drug addiction

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PHE launches review into prescription drug addiction

Public Health England is to undertake a year-long review into the growing problem of addiction to prescription medications such as painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs.

The review will examine the scale of the problem in England, and consider issues such as why prescribing of addictive medicines has increased three per cent over five years.

It will cover benzodiazepines and z-drugs, pregabalin and gabapentin, opioid pain medicines and antidepressants (while antidepressants are not considered to be addictive, they can cause withdrawal symptoms when some patients try to stop taking them).

'Cannot be complacent'

Public health minister Steve Brine said: “We know this is a huge problem in other countries like the United States – and we must absolutely make sure it doesn’t become one here. While we are world-leading in offering free treatment for addiction, we cannot be complacent – that’s why I’ve asked PHE to conduct this review.”

PHE’s director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, Rosanna O’Connor, said: “It is of real concern that so many people find themselves dependent on or suffering withdrawal symptoms from prescribed medicines. Many will have sought help for a health problem only to find later on they have a further obstacle to overcome.”

Drug-free treatments 'often scarce'

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs will always prescribe in the best interests of the individual patient in front of us, taking into account the physical, psychological and social factors that might be impacting their health. We will only prescribe medication after a frank conversation with the patient about the potential risks and benefits, and we will also conduct regular medication reviews in partnership with patients.

“However, we know most patients would rather not be on long-term medication and where appropriate we will explore non-pharmacological treatments, but these – and this is particularly so for psychological therapies – are often scarce at community level.

“We hope that conclusions from this review will include highlighting the need for greater provision of and access to alternative treatments in the community – and for those patients who do become addicted to prescription medications to have easy, consistent but also confidential access to appropriate, high quality support.”

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