One in four British adults are being prescribed potentially addictive drugs – and half are still hooked on them a year later, a bombshell report reveals.
Last night the Health Secretary said the findings were “alarming” – warning that Britain was now “in the grip of an over medication crisis” as he promised immediate action.
Matt Hancock said he was “incredibly concerned” by the situation, pledging to ensure the situation does not escalate to the kind of epidemic being seen in the US.
Health officials said the findings, which provide the first data mapping out the scale of dependence on heavy painkillers, anxiety drugs and antidepressants, should be treated as a “wake up call”.
Women were more than 50 per cent more likely to be taking such pills, with rates rising with age, the investigation found.
The review by Public Health England (PHE) calls for the creation of a national helpline – to ensure Britain does not follow in the steps of the US.
It found that in England, almost 12 million adults a year are being prescribed drugs on which they may become dependent.
These include 7.3 million people taking antidepressants more than one in six adults – as well as 5.6 million on opioid pain medications, and 3.9 million taking drugs such as benzodiazepines, Z drugs and gabapentinoids used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Often, patients were taking more than one type of treatment, with more than half a million people on a cocttail of opioids and antidepressants.
In around half of cases, those prescribed such drugs had been on them for at least 12 months – despite the fact that opioids and powerful sedatives are supposed to be reserved for short-term treatment.
Up to a third of patients had been on them for at least three years, including 930,000 people on anti-depressants, 540,000 on opioids and 160,000 on gabapentinoids.
Because of the risk of addiction – and withdrawal symptoms – medicines containing opioids should not normally be prescribed for more than three months, while benzodiazepines are not supposed to be used for more than a month.
Mr Hancock said: “I’m incredibly concerned by this new evidence about the impact over medicalisation is having on people across our country. The disturbing findings of the report – especially that 1 in 8 adults in England are taking super strength, addictive opioid painkillers, many for extended periods of time – proves to me that we are in the grip of an over-medication crisis. What is equally alarming is that in many cases, these medicines are unlikely to be working effectively due to over-use.”
“I refuse to let this escalate to the level seen in the United States. This review is a wake-up call, and we have already taken steps to address this issue. To be clear: the entire health care system will now be involved in making sure that we put an end to this once and for all.”