Opioid Crisis – better access to clinics and greater resources for GPs urgently needed

9 Sep 2019 | Stephanie Prior

Following on from my recent blog on the opioid crisis, over the weekend, it has been reported in the press that 5 million people in Britain are prescribed opioids. Apparently, 540,000 of this cohort have been on this medication for at least 3 years but, opioids should only be prescribed for a limited time, such as days or weeks.

The Sunday Times has been campaigning for change and it first reported on this crisis in February 2019 when it highlighted the rise in the number of opioid prescriptions. The newspaper also revealed that GPs are giving out such drugs for chronic pain, failing to review these vulnerable patients, which is leading to people being on such drugs for far longer than they should.

I understand there are also US drug firms enticing the NHS to increase the number of prescriptions, as well as dubious online pharmacies selling opioids online; making access to these drugs much easier.

Various groups and individuals are putting forward proposals to tackle this growing crisis including:

  • Matt Hancock, health secretary saying in April this year that opioid packets ‘must carry “cigarette style” warnings about addiction’.
  • The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence Watchdog preparing guidelines for GP’s on prescribing and weaning patients off their medication.

Others such as addiction and drug experts, medical organisations and patient groups are all calling for more to be done.

A PHE public inquiry is to be published, later this week, which is expected to reveal the extent of dependency on other drugs, such as anti-anxiety medication.

I await with interest to see if the Inquiry comments on patients having better access to pain clinics and GP’s being given more time and financial resource to spend with their patients, which would enable them to carry out proper prescription reviews for those patients on long term medication for pain, including opioids. All in my view should be actively considered, if this crisis is to be halted, and patients actively supported to find a route away from this highly addictive medication.

This blog is written by Stephanie Prior, Head of Medical Negligence, Osbornes Law.

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