Comment: New NHS guidelines for prescribing painkillers

2nd May 2019

New rules on prescribing powerful painkillers are to be brought in for GPs amid a rise in dependence on prescription drugs.

One in 11 UK patients are prescribed potentially addictive drugs such as sedatives and painkillers.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has now developed a guideline covering safe prescribing of drugs associated with dependence and the management of withdrawing from these drugs.

They will make it clear to GPs the dangers of prescribing opioids and other addictive substances, outlining how to help patients off the drugs.

Francesca Paul, a senior litigation executive in the medical negligence department at Fletchers Solicitors, has welcomed the announcement.

She said: “With the advancement of modern medicine there is an alarming reality that prescription drug addiction has been on the rise in the UK for a number of years.

“Thankfully it is something which has not gone unnoticed by the government. Public health minister Steve Brine said in 2018: ‘We know this is a huge problem in other countries like the USA – and we must absolutely make sure it doesn’t become one here.’

“Prescriptions of anti-depressants have more than doubled over the past decade, costing the NHS £340m in 2016. More than 12 million prescriptions for benzodiazepine were issued in 2015.

“After lobbying from MPs and charities NICE have now developed guidelines which cover the safe prescribing of drugs associated with dependence and the management of withdrawing from these drugs. The aim of the guidelines are to make it clear the dangers of prescribing addictive painkillers and to guide medical professionals In helping patients become less dependent upon the drugs.

“All too often we see cases where claimants have become addicted to prescription drugs and little is done by medical professionals to tackle dependence and withdrawal. For many years clinical negligence solicitors have advanced arguments that there should have been a shift in the quality of care for patients in chronic pain with a greater reliance on alternative treatment to reduce the inappropriate use of painkillers. 

“Whilst the new guidelines will not be fool proof we welcome the news that tighter restrictions on prescription painkillers are now being introduced and that the problem is now being taken seriously.”

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