The growing problem of dependence and addiction to prescription drugs is set to form the basis of an independent review announced today by the Government, as stark figures show one patient in eleven was prescribed a potentially addictive drug last year alone.
Public Health Minister, Steve Brine, has commissioned Public Health England (PHE) to undertake a thorough evidence review along with recommendations on how to address it.
The review will consider why:
- Prescribing of addictive medicines has increased 3% over five years
- One patient in eleven (8.9%) is prescribed one of these medicines
- Antidepressant prescriptions in England have more than doubled in the past 10 years
- A recent survey also found that 7.6% of adults had taken a prescription-only painkiller not prescribed to them
PHE will assess the scale of the problem, the harms caused by dependence and withdrawal, how they may be prevented and the best way to respond.
Many people benefit from medicines that treat problems like pain, anxiety and insomnia. But some of these medicines are highly addictive and result in dependence and withdrawal.
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 has an excellent track record in robust evidence reviews, and this will help us understand the scale of this issue here and how we can address it.”
Director of Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco at PHE, 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.
“PHE very much welcomes this opportunity as it is vital that we have the best understanding possible of how widespread these problems are, the harms they cause, as well as the most effective ways to prevent them happening and how best to help those in need.”
The review will cover benzodiazepines and z-drugs, pregabalin and gabapentin, opioid pain medicines and antidepressants. While anti-depressants are generally not recognised to be dependence forming, some patients experience difficulties when they try to stop taking them. For some, the symptoms of this ‘discontinuation syndrome’ are severe.
It will be a broad, public-health focused review of commonly prescribed medicines for adults who have pain (excluding pain from cancer), anxiety, insomnia or depression. Patient and prescription data, peer-reviewed published evidence and guidance will be analysed to determine:
- prevalence and prescribing
- the nature and likely causes of dependence or withdrawal
- effective prevention and treatment responses
PHE will also consult with health professionals and people affected by the problem, including those supporting others to overcome it. The findings of the review will be published in early 2019.
Notes to Editors
- PHE will publish a full scoping document in the coming weeks, with the findings of the review due in early 2019.