Overprescribing opioids is a thing – it’s time to stop it

Overprescribing opioids is a thing – its time to stop it
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A research team from Keele University, UK, has been awarded with a £2.4 million (~€2.7) grant to help reduce the overprescribing of opioids.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has awarded £2.4 million to Keele University’s Institute for primary care and health sciences to investigate the overprescribing of opioid painkillers, and to also improve care for patients with persistent pain – without the use of long-term opioids.

Reducing inappropriate opioid use

The research will help individuals with persistent or long-term pain caused by a range of conditions, including osteoarthritis and back pain, and intends to improve patient safety by reducing inappropriate opioid use and improving the quality of life for those with constant pain.

Nearly eight million adults in the UK suffer with moderate or severe persistent pain, and the use of opioid (morphine-like) painkillers has intensely increased in the UK over the past 20 years, rising by a third between 1998 and 2016.

Professor Christian Mallen, Director of the Institute for Primary Care and Health Sciences and NIHR Research Professor in General Practice explains: “Prescriptions for opioid medication continue to dramatically rise, despite limited evidence supporting their use for many painful conditions.

“By proactively addressing this problem and making better use of the highly skilled primary healthcare team, I hope we can rapidly improve outcomes for patients who too often suffer in silence.”

Individuals with persistent pain who take long-term opioids tend to have a worse quality of life than those who do not take opioids, and are more likely to suffer bone fractures, addiction and overdose, especially at high doses.

Dr Julie Ashworth, Senior Lecturer and Consultant in Pain Medicine, adds: “Patients with persistent pain often see no alternative to continuing opioids, even when they are no longer helpful or cause troublesome side-effects. In addition to reducing use of medicines that may be harming rather than helping patients, if successful, this research will ultimately also reduce NHS prescribing costs and free-up scarce resources to reinvest in more effective treatments.”

Exciting prospects

MP Steve Brine, Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, said: “This exciting research comes at a time when we are tackling overprescribing head on to improve the care of those with long-term conditions and to reduce prescribing costs across the whole NHS.

“In understanding how, we can better intervene at primary care level, we can prevent the complications that arise from long term opioid use which improves the quality of care for patients and reduces the burden on the NHS in the long-term.

“I would like to congratulate the research team at Keele University on receiving the grant and I look forward to following their progress.”

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