MPs and peers present case for national prescribed drug helpline to Public Health England

Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence (APPG for PDD) met at Westminster on 15 March in order to lobby Public Health England for a national 24 hour helpline to help patients withdraw from opioid painkillers, tranquilisers and antidepressants.  Parliamentarians who attended included Paul Flynn MP (chair), Sir Oliver Letwin MP, Lord Patel of Bradford, Baroness Masham and the Earl of Sandwich.  Representatives from the BMA were also present.

The meeting followed two years of work by the APPG for PDD and the BMA which culminated in a declaration of support for a prescribed drug helpline signed by key stakeholders, including the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, as well as several charities and patient groups.

At the meeting the APPG for PDD presented recent work undertaken by researchers at the University of Roehampton which estimates for the first time the cost of unnecessary long-term antidepressant and tranquiliser prescribing.  Dr James Davies shared research estimating that there are approximately 770,000 long-term users of antidepressants who could be taking the drugs unnecessarily in England alone, costing the NHS £44m per year or £120,000 per day.  In addition, the research estimates that there are over 250,000 users taking benzodiazepines and/or z-drugs beyond six months (NICE guidance indicates use for a maximum of 2-4 weeks).  The cost of this unnecessary long-term tranquiliser prescribing in England alone is £15.2m per year or £43,000 per day.

Rosanna O’Connor, Director Alcohol, Drugs & Tobacco at Public Health England, attended the meeting and listened to the evidence presented by the APPG.  She subsequently agreed to consult with colleagues regarding the APPG’s proposal for a national helpline.

Paul Flynn MP, chair of the APPG for PDD, said: ‘Long-term users of antidepressants, tranquilisers and opioid painkillers can suffer devastating effects when they try to withdraw, often leading to years of unnecessary suffering and disability.  And yet – unlike illicit drugs – there are hardly any dedicated services to support them.  The cost of unnecessary antidepressant and tranquiliser prescribing is now estimated at £60m a year in England alone.  We therefore urge Public Health England to set up a national helpline to support individuals wishing to withdraw from these drugs, and to reduce the tremendous cost to patients’ lives and the public purse.’

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