Posted by Perry Clayman

The latest statistics published by Public Health England show that a staggering 1 in 4 adults in England were prescribed potentially addictive drugs in 2018. This concerning statistic comes amidst Britain’s current opioid crisis.

The report further revealed that half a million people in the UK were taking both anti-depressants and opioids, two particular drugs that should be very carefully monitored when prescribed individually and together.

Public Health England (PHE), who was ordered to conduct the review of five classes of potentially addictive medicines by the UK government, has stated that an independent helpline must be set up in order to help the millions of individuals who may well be struggling with prescription drug dependence.

Concerns have been raised that overprescribing opiates and opioids is fuelling the UK’s opioid problem.

Top Over-prescribed Addictive Medicines in the UK

Public Health England was asked to review the following five classes of medications, all of which are potentially addictive and can have serious side effects and withdrawal symptoms:

  • Antidepressants
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Opioid pain killers (for non-cancer-related pain such as injury-related or degenerative joint disease)
  • Gabapentanoids
  • Z-drugs (non-benzodiazepine drugs that have similar effects and are used in the treatment of insomnia. Hypnotic sedatives such as Zopiclone and Zolpidem would be examples of the Z- drugs)

PHE took information from prescribing data, literature and personal experiences.

The main findings in their published report include:

  • 1 in 4 adults in England have been prescribed at least one of these classes of medications in the year ending March 2018
  • Whilst the long term prescribing of opioid pain medicines and benzodiazepines has fallen, it still frequently occurs. The statistics for 2018 are not in line with the current prescribing guidelines nor do they evidence their effectiveness
  • In March 2018, half of those receiving prescriptions for at least one of these classes of medicines had been continuously prescribed for at least the preceding 12 months.
  • Between 22 and 32% had received a prescription for one of these classes of medications for at least the previous 3 years.

Gabapentanoid and Antidepressant Prescriptions Continue to Rise in England

The report published by the UK’s government on the 10th of September 2019 also shows that there are more prescriptions being issued for gabapentinoids and antidepressants. It also identified that prescribing is at its highest levels in England’s most deprived areas.

Further key points include:

  • The number of prescriptions for antidepressants and gabapentinoids are rising in England
  • Prescription opioid pain killers and Z-drugs are finally falling over the past two years
  • Prescriptions for benzodiazepines in England continue to fall
  • Females and older adults (in particular those 75 and over) are prescribed to the most

Whilst prescriptions are falling for benzodiazepines, opioids and Z-drugs the rise in prescribing of pregabalin and gabapentin suggests that GPs may be trying to swap opiates and opioids for gabapentinoids.

Gabapentinoids provide effective pain relief but work in a different way from opiates and opioids. Both of these drugs are potent and addictive, they can cause drug dependence when taken for a prologued period of time.

Prescribing Rates Higher For England’s Most Deprived Areas

Drug dependence and overprescribing of these medicines have been linked to deprivation. No one knows why this is the case, but similarly, drug overdoses and drug deaths are also highest in the poorer areas of England.

drug misuse

Drug deaths are notably higher in the north of England where there is more deprivation

Public Health England emphasized that dependence on prescription drugs is more problematic in poorer areas of England and identified the following key links:

  • Prescribing rates and prescription duration are higher in some of England’s most deprived areas
  • Prescribing rates for opioids and gabapentinoids are 1.6 times higher in the most deprived areas than they are in England’s least deprived areas
  • Co-prescribed medicine rates (where two or more of the reviewed classes of drugs are prescribed) are also higher in England’s poorer cities

The report also highlighted that many individuals on a long term prescription of addictive drugs felt that they were not given adequate information regarding drug dependence and withdrawal at the time of first prescribing. This responsibility lays firmly in the hands of the GP’s prescribing these medicines.

It isn’t known the exact number of people who are prescription drug-dependent, but considering the prescribing rates, there could be millions suffering in the UK. With so many individuals potentially suffering from prescription drug dependence, isn’t it time that everyone woke up to the dangers of addictive prescription drugs?

Prescription Drug Dependence and Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug addiction and prescription drug dependence are sadly very common and there is little help available on the NHS for those that suffer.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one have a dependence on one of the reviewed classes of medications it is important that you do not just stop taking your medication. This is likely to result in very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and with some medications can even be life-threatening.

As a guideline, opioids should not be taken consecutively for any longer than a period of 3 months, Z drugs and benzodiazepines no longer than 28 days. If you have been on a prescription for longer than this, please speak to your GP about your concerns.

If you wish to come off your medication comfortably and safely, PCP can facilitate a full medical detox for all kinds of prescription drugs. Call us today to find out more about our private drug detoxes and rehab programmes.



Office for National Statistics

Public Health England




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