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BMA calls for national prescription drug helpline

The BMA has called for a national helpline to support patients with addiction problems as part of a new project to tackle prescription drug dependence. 

The need for a nationwide telephone advice service was identified by the BMA and prescription drug dependence charities, patient groups and medical bodies who have also called for more specialist support services and clear guidance for practitioners on tapering and withdrawal management. 

The proposal is one of three recommendations, which were identified in a call for evidence and a series of roundtable meetings, hosted by the BMA board of science to gather the views of stakeholders on ways to improve the prevention and management of prescribed drug dependence. 

The recommendations are:

1. The UK government, supported by the devolved nations, should introduce a national, 24 hour helpline for prescribed drug dependence.
2. Each of the UK governments, relevant health departments and local authorities should establish, adequately resourced specialist support services for prescribed drug dependence.
3. Clear guidance on tapering and withdrawal management should be developed collaboratively with input from professional groups and patients.

Commenting on the paper, Dr Andrew Green, BMA GP clinical and prescribing policy lead, said: 

“We believe that establishing a national helpline, similar to the FRANK service, should be a top priority to provide better service to individuals with prescribed drug dependence. This would provide vital, timely support and could be introduced relatively quickly.

"Doctors would also welcome more robust guidance on managing prescription medicine dependence and withdrawal. 

“There is also the need for specialist services to be consistently available across the country, as patients are often referred to general drug and alcohol services, which do not have adequate resources, and whose skills are different to those needed to manage prescription drug dependence. This would ensure patients, carers and families have access to trusted and expert advice and support.”


Notes to Editors

The British Medical Association (BMA) is the voice of doctors and medical students in the UK. It is an apolitical professional organisation and independent trade union, representing doctors and medical students from all branches of medicine across the UK and supporting them to deliver the highest standards of care.

1. A number of prescribed medications are associated with dependence and withdrawal. This project has had a particular focus on benzodiazepines, ‘z-drugs’ (zolpidem, zopliclone, zaleplon), opioids and antidepressants.
2. In March 2014, the BMA board of science sent out a call for evidence to gather the views of stakeholders on ways to improve the prevention and management of prescribed drug dependence. We received a wide range of responses from professional organisations and charity and patient groups. This evidence was set out in an analysis report published in October 2015, bringing together the views of all the organisations who made representations. You can read the BMA’s recommendations here.

3. For media enquiries and interview requests, please contact Daniel Sutherland at 020 7383 6487   or email [email protected]