Researchers have called for a national database of patients taking large amounts of opioid painkillers after a study found opioid prescribing is on the rise across England.
Published in the British Journal Of General Practice, the research found an increase in long-term opioid prescribing "despite poor efficacy for non-cancer pain, potential harm, and incompatibility with best practice."
The call follows the announcement of a review into the "growing problem" of prescription drug addiction, covering benzodiazepines and z-drugs, pregabalin and gabapentin, opioid pain medicines and antidepressants.
Led by University College Hospital in London, the study examined data from GP practices across England from August 2010 to February 2014, the authors concluding there had been a rise in opioid prescribing, specifically of buprenorphine, codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and tramadol, the most prescribed opioid in England.
Two opioids, methadone and dihydrocodeine, showed a decrease during the study period.
Researchers found that almost all of the low prescribing areas were in the south of England and nine of the 10 highest prescribing areas were in the north.
The move to establish a national database of patients would "hopefully help avoid further escalations of doses as well as attempt to help patients with specialist opioid reduction programmes", researchers said.
The authors conclude: "Long-term opioid prescribing is increasing despite poor efficacy for non-cancer pain, potential harm, and incompatibility with best practice.
"Questions of equality of care arise from higher prescription rates in the north of England and in areas of greater social deprivation.
"A national registry of patients with high opioid use would improve patient safety for this high-risk demographic, as well as provide more focused epidemiological data regarding patterns of prescribing."
Steve Brine, Public Health Minister, said: "We know that prescription drug addiction is a growing concern in this country-which is exactly why we recently commissioned an independent review of the current situation in England.
"It is an issue that has reached epidemic proportions in the US-and we are determined to make sure this doesn't happen here.
"Once we have a better understanding of the scale of the problem we will be looking at a range of policy options to tackle the issue."