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  1. ITV Report

Prescription drug addiction to be reviewed by government to address potentially 'huge problem'

The review will cover benzodiazepines and z-drugs, pregabalin and gabapentin, opioid pain medicines and antidepressants. Credit: PA

Prescription drug addiction is to be reviewed by the government, the public health minister has announced.

Steve Brine has commissioned Public Health England (PHE) to examine why one patient in every 11 was prescribed a potentially addictive drug last year.

Brine said the issue was a "huge problem" in countries such as the United States, adding: "we must absolutely make sure it doesn't become one here."

The review is to consider the following:

  • - Prescribing of "addictive medicines" has increased 3% over five years.
  • - 8.9% of patients were prescribed one of these medicines last year.
  • - Antidepressant prescriptions in England have more than doubled in the past 10 years.
  • - And the number of adults taking prescription-only painkillers not prescribed to them, with a recent poll suggesting the figure may be as high as 7.6%.

The PHE will review the evidence and also make recommendations on how to address the issue, according to health officials.

It said many people benefit from medicines that treat problems like pain, anxiety and insomnia, but some of these medicines are highly addictive and result in dependence and withdrawal.

The review will cover benzodiazepines and z-drugs, pregabalin and gabapentin, opioid pain medicines and antidepressants.

While antidepressants are not generally recognised as dependence-forming, some patients experience difficulties when they try to stop taking them.

One patient in every 11 was prescribed a potentially addictive drug last year. Credit: PA

"We know this is a huge problem in other countries like the United States and we must absolutely make sure it doesn't become one here," Brine said.

"While we are world-leading in offering free treatment for addiction, we cannot be complacent. That's why I've asked PHE to conduct this review.

"PHE has an excellent track record in robust evidence reviews, and this will help us understand the scale of this issue here and how we can address it."

Rosanna O'Connor, director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco at PHE, added: "It is of real concern that so many people find themselves dependent on or suffering withdrawal symptoms from prescribed medicines.

"Many will have sought help for a health problem only to find later on they have a further obstacle to overcome.

"PHE very much welcomes this opportunity as it is vital that we have the best understanding possible of how widespread these problems are, the harms they cause, as well as the most effective ways to prevent them happening and how best to help those in need."