GPs and pharmacists have cut opioid prescriptions in England by 450,000 in under four years, according to new data.
Legal opioid treatments are usually only available by prescription from a doctor and include morphine, tramadol, fentanyl, methadone and diamorphine. Patients can receive an opioid prescription for moderate and severe pain relief for a short period of time.
Opioids can be highly addictive, and reducing prescriptions is vital to curb overuse. The NHS has released a new action plan to reduce opioid prescriptions.
Tackling the growing number of opioid prescriptions
The new NHS framework for local health and care providers aims to further reduce inappropriate prescribing of high-strength painkillers and other addiction-causing medicines, like opioids and benzodiazepines. The plan aims to identify where an opioid prescription may not be the most clinically appropriate treatment for patients and could lead to further harm without intervention.
The plan will support GPs and clinical pharmacists to provide patients with a personalised review of their medicine and make an informed, shared decision about whether an opioid prescription is necessary and beneficial to the patient.
Professor Tony Avery OBE, National Clinical Director for Prescribing at NHS England, said: “Medicines offer a fantastic range of tools for NHS staff to provide patient care and treatment that can be positively life-changing or even life-saving.
“However, we need to be alert to the risks of some medicines, particularly when used over a long period and the framework we are publishing today empowers local services to work with people to ensure they are being effectively supported when a medicine is no longer providing overall benefit”.
£50 million investment into improving the NHS
An investment of almost £50m is supporting the NHS to make significant progress in this area. The latest data shows that in under three years, the number of opioid prescriptions has fallen by 8%, which is estimated to have saved almost 350 lives and prevented more than 2,100 incidents of patient harm.
The number of benzodiazepines and sleeping pills (z-drugs) prescribed in England has also fallen by 170,000 (13.9%) and 95,000 (10.2%) since the NHS-led implementation by key recommendations outlined in a 2019 review by Public Health England.
Furthermore, the review found that in 2017/18, one in four adults in England were prescribed benzodiazepines, z-drugs, gabapentinoids, opioids for chronic non-cancer pain or antidepressants.
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 has 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.”