Tens of thousands of south Norfolk adults prescribed highly addictive opioid painkillers
Tens of thousands of adults in south Norfolk were prescribed highly addictive opioid painkillers last year, a new report reveals.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the country is “in the grip of an over-medication crisis” and pledged to take immediate steps to address the issue.
Public Health England figures show that 23,653 adults in the South Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group area received at least one prescription for opioid painkillers in 2017-18, equating to 13 per cent of the adult population.
Half those on a prescription for the drug during March last year had been taking them for a year or more, the study found.
The figures exclude people who were prescribed opioid painkillers for cancer pain.
Mr Hancock said: “The disturbing findings of the report prove to me that we are in the grip of an over-medication crisis.
“What is equally alarming is that, in many cases, these medicines are unlikely to be working effectively due to over-use.
“I refuse to let this escalate to the level seen in the United States. To be clear, the entire healthcare system will now be involved in making sure we put an end to this.”
Opioids are known to be ineffective for most people over the long term, but many patients struggle to come off the drugs.
The review also examined prescribing rates for anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills.
In south Norfolk, 34,237 people received a prescription for anti-depressants in 2017-18, equating to 18 per cent of the adult population.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “This study indicates the severe lack of alternatives to drug therapies for many conditions and, where effective alternatives do exist, inadequate and unequal access to them across the country.
“GPs don’t want to prescribe medication long term unless it is essential, but there will always be some patients for whom medication is the only thing that helps with distressing conditions, such as chronic pain, depression or anxiety.”