Doctors have urged ministers to adopt a three-point plan to help patients addicted to prescription drugs – including the creation of a new national helpline.
The policy ideas come after research by the BMA board of science – working with a range of other medical organisations, support groups and charities – into prescribed drug dependence on substances such as benzodiazepines, z-drugs, opioids, and anti-depressants.
Prescriptions for anti-depressants alone have doubled over the past decade, evidence to the inquiry found. More than 70 million prescriptions were issued in 2015, costing £340m.
This week the recommendations were flagged up with the public health minister Nicola Blackwood in a letter by BMA board of science chair Parveen Kumar, which described the issue as a ‘major public health issue’.
‘The provision of services for these patients is inconsistent across the country and it is clear that a national approach for services and guidance is needed.
‘These patients suffer devastating health problems caused by prescribed drugs,’ the letter adds. ‘We would like the Government to play its part in proving this much-needed support.’
The recommendations put forward in the letter are:
– the creation of a round-the-clock helpline for prescribed drug dependence
– a national strategy for specialist services for patients addicted to such medication
– more robust guidance on managing patients’ withdrawal from drugs.
Helpline top priority
GPC clinical and prescribing policy lead Andrew Green said the new national helpline should be a ‘top priority’ and could be modelled on FRANK, the one for those addicted to illegal drugs.
‘This would provide vital, timely support and could be introduced relatively quickly,’ he added.
‘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.’
Read more about the BMA board of science report Prescribed drugs associated with dependence and withdrawal
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