England General practitioner

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Prescription drug addiction on the rise

pharmacist holding prescription drugs

Doctors have renewed calls for a national helpline for patients addicted to prescription drugs after the Government announced a probe into the growing problem.

The investigation will be led by Public Health England to pinpoint the scale of the issue amid concerns it has caused serious problems in other countries.

Public health minister Steve Brine said: ‘We know this is a huge problem in other countries like the USA – 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.’

Prescriptions of anti-depressants have more than doubled over the past decade, costing the NHS £340m in 2016. More than 12 million prescriptions for benzodiazepine were issued in 2015.

BMA GPs committee prescribing policy lead Andrew Green said doctors welcome the review into drug dependence. ‘This can have a devastating impact on the lives of those affected,’ he added

‘Doctors see first-hand the need for greater action and support to tackle this problem, and in 2016 the BMA outlined a number of recommendations aimed at ensuring those affected by prescription drug dependence have access to trusted, expert advice and guidance.

The BMA has called for a 24-hour specialist helpline for patients affected by prescribed drugs, modelled on one called FRANK, for users of illicit drugs. Such a helpline would give people with dependence on drugs such as benzodiazepines vital access to timely support, Dr Green said.

‘We would also like to ensure that the local services provided are suitable for patients with dependence on prescription drugs, whose needs can be different to those obtaining drugs from other sources,’ he added.

A 2015 BMA report, Prescribed Drugs Associated with Dependence and Withdrawal: Building a Consensus for Action, states: ‘This issue is becoming increasingly ingrained with complex medical, political and ethical challenges.

‘Too little is known about prescribing patterns, the levels of dependence and withdrawal, and the level of harm that is being caused,’ the report adds. ‘There is also too little research about the long-term effects of these drugs.'

PHE director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco Rosanna O’Connor said: ‘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.’

PHE is due to publish the results of its investigation next year.

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