New BMA report calls for concerted action to tackle dependence caused by prescribed drugs

The BMA Board of Science has released a report Prescribed drugs associated with dependence and withdrawal – building a consensus which acknowledges how far the government, medical profession and research community need to go in order to properly address this major public health problem.

Government prescription statistics reveal that prescriptions for tranquillisers, antidepressants and opiate-based painkillers have been rising sharply in recent years amounting to a total of 107 million prescriptions in 2014.

The BMA report analysed the responses from a range of professional and governing bodies including the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, charities and support organisations. The analysis revealed:

  • Lack of GP training about prescription drug dependence resulted in lack of confidence in dealing with dependence and an under-estimation of the effects of withdrawal;
  • Significant evidence of long-term and potentially harmful prescribing outside clinical guidelines and a lack of regular monitoring of prescribing;
  • Under-funding of non-drug based therapies contributing significantly to long-term prescribing;
  • Serious under-provision and under-funding of specialist support services;
  • Pressing need for more data on the scale of the problem and more clinical research into harms associated with long-term prescribing.

In welcoming the report, APPG chair Paul Flynn MP said, “Many of the problems identified in the report have been known for decades and it is a public health scandal that so little progress has been made to help those affected. However the BMA report now proves that there is a consensus among medical bodies and charities regarding the actions required to reduce the harms caused by prescribed drug dependence. I urge the BMA to build on this consensus and help turn it into action both within the BMA and Department of Health.  The APPG for Prescribed Drug Dependence believes that the priority here is to provide support services for patients who have become dependent, starting with a government-funded national telephone helpline.”

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