Doctors warn on prescription addiction

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A consensus statement has been issued by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) cautioning against the long-term prescribing of medicines that carry a risk of addiction. 

The statement, which is supported by nearly 20 other organisations including the NTA, SMMGP, National Pharmacy Association and the British Association of Social Workers, says medicines such as tranquilisers and painkillers should not be prescribed for long periods ‘except in exceptional circumstances’. While many patients may feel that the drugs are beneficial, it is vital that they understand the risks and are able to make informed choices, say the organisations, which also call for ‘rigorous and holistic’ reviews to be regularly carried out.

The statement acknowledges the challenges faced by people who have developed an addiction to prescription or over-the-counter medicines, and stresses that ‘extreme caution’ should be taken when reducing or stopping the medication, including seeking specialist help. Some medicines – such as benzodiazepines – carry a known risk of dependence, which can be ‘devastating to those affected and their families’, it states, and stresses that prescribing should always be informed by up-to-date guidance. Patients should also be offered ‘appropriate non‐pharmacological options’ where appropriate. 

Health and social care professionals across the statutory and voluntary sector need to work together to prevent addiction from occurring and support ‘all those suffering dependence and its impact’, the document adds, with GPs well-placed to work in partnership with other agencies. 

This joint-working approach had ‘been shown to be successful in helping patients to slowly adjust their treatment and achieve their recovery goals, including providing them with more access to alternatives such as psychological therapies and physical rehabilitation for pain relief,’ said RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada. ‘GPs and health professionals are already helping these patients to reduce their medication and understand all the options – but there is general agreement that we all need to do more.’

The statement has been welcomed by the NTA, with the agency adding that much of what it called for was already underway. Public Health England (PHE) would ‘continue to support local authorities to ensure that appropriate help is available for everyone who needs it’, it said. 

Addiction to medicines consensus statement at www.rcgp.org.uk

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