GPs and pharmacists have helped cut opioid prescriptions in England by 450,000 in under four years, latest data shows, as the NHS unveils a new action plan to crack down on the overuse of potentially-addictive medicines.
The new 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, where they may no longer be the most clinically appropriate treatment for patients – and in some cases can become harmful without intervention.
The plan will support GPs and clinical pharmacists to provide patients with a personalised review of their medicines and make a shared decision about whether a change in treatment is needed, such as moving patients away from potentially-addictive prescribed drugs, especially in cases where the clinical benefit for an individual remaining on a treatment decreases.
Thanks to investment of almost £50 million over the current financial year, the NHS is already making significant progress in this area and the latest data shows that in under three years the number of opioid painkillers prescribed has fallen by 8%, which is estimated to have saved nearly 350 lives and prevented more than 2,100 incidents of patient harm.
The numbers of benzodiazepines and sleeping pills (z-drugs) prescribed in England has also fallen by 170,000 (13.9%) and 95,000 (10.2%) respectively since the NHS led the implementation of key recommendations outlined in a 2019 review by Public Health England.
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.
Now the NHS is supporting integrated care boards, community health services, public health teams and primary care networks to create personalised and innovative support for patients who have used addictive drugs or suffer from a condition that would have historically seen them prescribed such a drug, to better manage their long-term physical and mental health.
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 having 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.”