Public Health England have published their first ever evidence review of the dependence and withdrawal problems associated with five commonly prescribed classes on medicines in England.
While prescriptions for benzodiazepines, gabapentinoids and antidepressants are all rising, since 2016 prescriptions for opioid pain medication and z-drugs are actually falling.
The review also found that prescribing rates are higher in some of the most deprived areas of England. In the most deprived areas, the amount of opioids and gabapentinoids prescribed was 1.6 times higher than in the least deprived. A similar pattern is seen in the rates of co-prescribing (being prescribed two, or more of the drugs).
Karen Tyrell, Spokesperson for drug and alcohol charity Addaction, said:
“This review has found that a quarter of us have been prescribed one of these medicines in the last year. The scale of what we are seeing here should sound alarm bells. There needs to be clearer national guidance on the use of all prescription pain medication.
“It’s a really common and everyday issue. What can start out as a vital part of treatment, can turn into dependence for some. That can be tough to recognise and hearing about these figures might make you wonder about your own use of medication.
“We know that some people need additional help and support to reduce their medication but in many areas there really isn't enough help to go around. Factors such as an ageing population, cuts to treatment services and increasing poverty levels have all played a role.
“If you are worried about your use of medication, don’t stop taking it without the advice of a medical professional. Talk to your GP or, for free and confidential support, you can speak to a trained advisor via Addaction’s online webchat.”