Opioid Painkillers: Doctors Urged To Be More Vigilant With Prescriptions – This Is Why

GPs advised to review patients after two weeks.

The amount of opioids doctors are prescribing patients has significantly increased over the past decade, potentially contributing to the rise of opioid misuse and addiction, new research suggests.

Worldwide, the use of prescription opioid painkillers more than doubled between 2001 and 2013. The researchers said in some countries, including the US Canada, UK and the Australia, “the growth of opioid dispensing over time has been linked to increases in harm related to opioid misuse and abuse”.

Common opioids prescribed for pain management in the UK include codeine, dihydrocodeine, tramadol, morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, buprenorphine and diamorphine.

In January, exclusive data shared with HuffPost UK by UKAT, a chain of private treatment centres, suggested a 45% rise in admissions for codeine addiction in the past three years.

Study author Dr Lesley Colvin, from Dundee University, has recommended patients receiving opioid prescriptions should be reviewed more frequently to avoid overprescribing and subsequent problems.

He proposed reviews after nine days for general surgery, 13 days for women’s gynaecological health procedures and 15 days for musculoskeletal procedures such as hip replacements.

Stas_V via Getty Images

In the three separate papers, published in the Lancet, researchers investigated opioid prescription policies around the world and tracked their potential impact.

Deaths from prescription opioids have more than quadrupled in the USA since 1999, and this pattern is now starting to replicate globally, they said.

Last year, a study led by University College London found the number of opioid drugs being prescribed to patients in England has been steadily rising since 2010 and notably, “prescriptions of codeine increased faster than all other opioids”.

The latest data from the Office of National Statistics shows deaths caused by codeine in England and Wales increased from 131 in 2016 to 156 in 2017, an increase of nearly 20%.

HuffPost UK previously spoke to patients who developed codeine dependency after being prescribed the drug by the NHS.

Adam, now 26, from south west Scotland, developed an addiction to codeine after he was prescribed it while he was recovering from knee reconstruction surgery when he was a 19-year-old student.

“In the beginning I took the prescribed amount which seemed to dull my senses enough,” he recalls. ”After a couple of months I was having to take more than the prescribed amount to have the same effect.”

Adam said it should be harder to obtain codeine and other opioids from GPs than is currently the case.

“I was given boxes of 100 pills at a time and all I had to do was call up my GP for a telephone appointment, explain that I had ran out and a prescription would be waiting for me at the surgery,” he said. “To almost give an unlimited supply is dangerous and negligent if it’s not being monitored.”

At the time, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, told HuffPost UK “best clinical practice is to conduct regular medication reviews, at least annually, to ensure the patient is still benefiting from the medication”.

But the new research suggests clinicians need to go even further.

Professor Paul Myles, from Monash University, Australia, who led the research series, said: “To reduce the increased risk of opioid misuse for surgery patients, we call for a comprehensive approach to reduce opioid prescriptions, increase use of alternative medications, reduce leftover opioids in the home, and educate patients and clinicians about the risks and benefits of opioids.”