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NICE urges safer use of controlled drugs

Guidance on the safe and responsible management of controlled drugs, such as morphine, methadone and diazepam, has been clarified in new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

NICE’s guidance will help health and social care professionals “negotiate complex legislation and regulations to ensure they are doing all they can to care for patients being treated with controlled drugs”, says the body.

The recommendations emphasise that:

  • Health professionals should provide advice and information to people prescribed medications about how to store and dispose of them safely – discuss lockable or non-lockable storage boxes, whether drugs will be accessible to others and whether the chosen storage method increases the risk of a drug-related incident.
  • Pharmacists should tell patients when only part of their prescription is available. They should also tell patients when the rest will be ready and how soon they must collect it.
  • Health organisations should keep a record log for the supply, administration, transfer and disposal of controlled drugs.
  • Enough of a controlled drug can be prescribed to meet the person’s clinical needs for up to, but no more than, 30 days. If, under exceptional circumstances, a larger quantity is prescribed, the reasons for this should be documented in the person’s care record.

Dr Tessa Lewis, GP and chair of the guideline development group, said: "A great deal of work has been done recently to help ensure the safe use and management of controlled drugs at a local and national level. However, ongoing activity and vigilance is required to sustain the positive developments that have been achieved since the changes to the structure of the NHS took effect in 2012."

"Robust systems and processes must be in place for this group of medicines, said NICE. “In considering changes to legislation and to the NHS structure as well as relevant patient safety incidents, this guidance provides further clarity and good practice recommendations across most NHS settings and people’s own homes."

The guidance applies to all NHS settings except care homes: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng46

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