New research shows £500m wasted each year in England on dependency-forming medicines

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence released new research on the 19th October which estimates that around half a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money is wasted each year in England on medicines that can cause dependency, including antidepressants, painkillers and sleeping pills.

This research follows the publication in 2019 of Public Health England’s Prescribed Medicines Review, which established that over a quarter of the adult population in England (26.3%) had been prescribed a dependency-forming medicine in the previous year.

In this new research, titled ‘The estimated costs incurred by the NHS in England due to the unnecessary prescribing of dependency-forming medications’, and published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, the authors define unnecessary prescribing as prescribing that either contravenes current NICE guidelines, or where no evidence exists for efficacy or continued clinical need, despite long-term use.

The research team from the University of Roehampton, the University of Greenwich and University College London (UCL) included academics, psychologists, a psychiatrist and an economist, as well as clinicians and persons with lived experience. The researchers reviewed data relating to the same drugs that were covered by the PHE 2019 review: antidepressants, opioids, gabapentinoids, benzodiazepines and Z-drugs.

A webinar held on the 19th October 2021 discussing the research can be viewed here, and includes presentations from Dr James Davies, co-lead author of the study, alongside co-author Prof Joanna Moncrieff who discusses the harms of long-term prescribing.  June Lovell, manager of the only NHS run prescribed drug withdrawal service in the UK, gives a short presentation on the demands on the service and its cost-effectiveness.

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