Public Health England has published the first evidence review of dependence and withdrawal problems associated with five commonly prescribed classes of medicines.
The Prescribed Medicines Review assesses the scale and distribution of prescribed medicines – and makes recommendations for better monitoring, treatment and support for patients.
The five classes of medicine included in the review were: benzodiazepines, Z-drugs, gabapentinoids, opioid pain medications and antidepressants. Main findings include:
- One-in-four adults had been prescribed at least one of these classes of medicines in the year ending March 2018
- In March 2018 half of those receiving a prescription (of these classes of medicine) had been continuously prescribed for at least the previous 12 months. Between 22% and 32% had received a prescription for at least the previous three years
- Long-term prescribing of opioid pain medicines and benzodiazepines is falling but still occurs frequently – which is not in line with the guidelines or evidence on effectiveness
Prescribing rates and duration of prescription are higher in some of the most deprived areas of England.
A similar pattern is also seen for the number of medicines co-prescribed, for example, at least two of the drugs. The co-prescribing rate in the most deprived quintile was 1.4 times higher than in the least deprived quintile – 30% compared to 21%.
For opioids and gabapentinoids, the prescribing rate in the most deprived quintile was 1.6 times the rate in the least deprived quintile.
The review makes a number of recommendations focusing on education and treatment, including giving commissioners and doctors better access to data, updating clinical guidance, giving better information to patients about the benefits and risks of medicines and setting up a national helpline.