Practices should get more data on patient dependency on prescription medicines as part of a drive to reduce over-use, experts say.
One in four adults are now taking prescription medicines for pain, anxiety or insomnia, leading public health experts warned. According to the analysis about one in eight adults had received continuous prescriptions for at least 12 months.
The extent of long-term use of the prescribed drugs led Public Health England to issue new guidelines, calling for new clinical guidance on the safe management of dependence and withdrawal.
The agency said it was not possible to state the exact number of people suffering from dependence and withdrawal problems – but that this was a “likely” risk of long-term prescribing. The review examined five classes of medicines: benzodiazepines,
Z-drugs, gabapentinoids, opioid pain medications and antidepressants.
The analysis looked at prescriptions up to the end of March 2018 and found that of the 25% who had received one of the drugs, up to 32% had been receiving them for at least three years.
Public Health England also calls for better access to data for doctors to encourage the use of best practice. It also calls for improved information for patients – and “clear” discussions between doctors and patients.
Rosanna O’Connor, from the agency, said: “We know that GPs in some of the more deprived areas are under great pressure but, as this review highlights, more needs to be done to educate and support patients, as well as looking closely at prescribing practice, and what alternative treatments are available locally.
“While the scale and nature of opioid prescribing does not reflect the so-called crisis in North America, the NHS needs to take action now to protect patients.
“Our recommendations have been developed with expert medical royal colleges, the NHS and patients that have experienced long-term problems. The practical package of measures will make a difference to help prevent problems arising and support those that are struggling on these medications.”
Royal College of GPs chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the vast majority of prescriptions were short-term.
She said: “Whilst the vast majority of prescriptions will be appropriate, if we are to reverse the prescribing trends outlined in this report, GPs need better access for our patients to alternative therapies in the community. We also need more high-quality research into alternatives to drug therapies in general – as well as around dependence and withdrawal – and for this to shape the clinical guidelines that GPs use to inform our practice.”