The NHS has slashed opioid prescriptions by half a million following a campaign to cut use of addictive and potentially harmful drugs.
New figures published by NHS England show prescriptions for opioids fell from 5.68 million to 5.23million between 2019/20 and the year ending November 2022.
GPs and pharmacists also slashed benzodiazepine prescriptions by 170,000, from 1.25million to 1.08million while sleeping pill prescriptions dropped by almost 93,000 from 906,164 to 813,285.
But worryingly, antidepressant use continues to soar with almost 8.5 million dished out last year– up from almost 7.8million in 2020.
In a victory for the Mail, the NHS has today launched a new plan aimed to further reduce inappropriate prescribing of painkillers and other addictive drugs.
In a victory for the Daily Mail, the NHS is launching a plan aimed at further reducing the inappropriate prescribing of painkillers and other addictive drugs
The new guidelines are designed to support GPs and pharmacists in giving patients regular personalised reviews of their medicines.
It calls on them to work with patients to see if a change in treatment was appropriate, such as moving patients away from drugs, especially if there were questions over their benefit.
But campaigners have warned it will likely take ‘months or perhaps years’ for new services to be implemented and repeated calls for a national 24-hour helpline.
Only this will ‘save lives, reduce suffering and bring down the unnecessary costs to the public purse,’ they said.
Under the new guidelines, GPs and other healthcare professionals must warn patients of the risks of medication and offer alternatives, such as social prescribing.
If given prescription medications, they must then hold regular medication reviews to discuss whether to continue, stop or taper treatment.
Local health leaders should develop specialist services for patients experiencing withdrawal symptoms from deprescribing of these medicines, it suggests.
The Mail has been campaigning for greater recognition of the prescription drugs addiction crisis since March 2017.
Prescriptions for opioids fell from 5.68 million to 5.23 million between 2019/20 and the year ending November 2022, according to NHS England figures
An official review by Public Health England (PHE) showed that between 2017 and 2018, 11.5 million adults — a quarter of the adult population — were prescribed drugs that had the potential for addiction or withdrawal problems.
These include antidepressants, opioids for chronic pain, gabapentinoids used to treat epilepsy, neuropathic pain and anxiety, benzodiazepines for anxiety and Z-drugs or sleeping tablets.
It led the then health secretary, Matt Hancock, to pledge to end the crisis of over-medicalisation ‘once and for all.’
But last October, Good Health exposed how £570 million was still being wasted every year on prescriptions for dependency-forming pills on patients who did not need them – enough to pay the salaries of 10,000 GPs or 20,000 nurses.
Last night, Lord Nigel Crisp, former chief executive of NHS England and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Prescribed Drug Dependence, welcomed the move but worried it could take years to help those who are suffering.
He said: ‘In the meantime we call on the Government to implement its own recommendation for a 24 hour national helpline and website to support those in crisis today.
‘Together these initiatives will save lives, reduce suffering and bring down the unnecessary costs to the public purse.’
NHS England said an eight per cent drop in prescriptions in under three years for opioids was estimated to have saved nearly 350 lives and prevented more than 2,100 incidents of patient harm.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said: ‘We know that patients who require prescriptions for potentially addictive drugs can become dependent and struggle with withdrawal, and this new action plan helps NHS services to continue positive work in this space having already slashed opioid prescriptions by almost half-a-million over the last four years.
‘The plan gives clear guidance to support patients who no longer need these drugs to provide them with routine medicine reviews and move them on to other, alternative therapies where appropriate, saving both lives and taxpayer money in the process.’
Health Minister Neil O’Brien said: ‘Tackling the overprescribing of opioids is important, while also ensuring patients have effective alternates.
‘Painkillers can help many people manage pain, but they must be treated with caution. Some opioids are highly addictive and have the potential to cause significant harm.’