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PHE report underlines support needed for patients suffering with prescription drug dependence, says BMA

Responding to Public Health England’s review on dependence and withdrawal problems associated with prescription drugs, published today1, Dr Andrew Green, who represented the BMA during the review process, said:

“We have seen the devastation that addiction to prescription drugs has had in the United States, and while the problem here is on a lesser scale, doctors in the UK are of course concerned at the number of patients being prescribed these medicines, and the length of time they are taking them for.

“The BMA has been working for some years with patients and health organisations to understand and address the causes behind high prescription rates, and we were pleased to engage with this review and welcome its recommendations.

“Indeed, today’s report shows that prescription rates for some drugs – including opioid painkillers – are beginning to fall thanks to doctors actively working with their patients to avoid inappropriate prescribing.

“While there isn’t a single cause for high prescription rates, social deprivation, an increased prevalence of mental health problems and poor access to mental health care, a rise in the demand for GP services and a growing, aging population, are likely to be significant contributing factors.

“It is positive that this report recognises that to reduce prescription levels, we need significant investment in support services; this will enable patients and GPs to manage dependencies together in the community. GPs will often be the sole clinicians who are managing a patient’s withdrawal, and there is a real need for better clinical guidance in this respect. We are glad that NICE is in the process of developing this.

“And while there remains a place for prescribing the kinds of drugs this report covers – including, in some circumstances, for long-term use – we need many more alternatives to medication, such as pain clinics, improved access to mental health services, and physiotherapy – the universal provision of which are all lacking.

“The BMA has for a long time called for tailored services to support people with dependence to prescription drugs, including a national helpline – and we are pleased to see this reflected within the report’s recommendations. Currently those who think they may have developed dependence on medication could have to use services developed to help people addicted to illicit drugs. These are very different problems, with their own causes, effects and solutions, and they require very different approaches.

“In light of today’s findings, it is important that patients worried about taking any of these drugs should not stop doing so but instead speak with their GP about their concerns at their next medicine review.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

1. Please contact Public Health England for full details.


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British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JP
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