NHS accused of ‘creating drug addicts’ as opioid use soars

Record number of powerful painkillers were prescribed by doctors in England in 2017

codeine pills
Opioids such as codeine were prescribed at a rate of 2,700 packs an hour last year in the UK
(Image credit: Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images)

A surge in prescriptions of powerful painkillers in England has triggered accusations that the NHS is fuelling an addiction crisis.

A BBC investigation has revealed that nearly 24 million opioids, including morphine, tramadol and fentanyl, were prescribed last year - ten million more than in 2007.

The prescribing rate of opioids is four times higher in parts of northern England than in London, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

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Doctors will give patients tablets such as tramadol “without asking too many questions”, said Nicki Hari, a former drug user and now a counsellor for UK Addiction Treatment.

“GPs are just feeding people with pills, and the result is that the NHS is creating drug addicts,” Hari told the BBC.

However, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said doctors “take prescribing any medication very seriously” and will “never prescribe opioids as a ‘quick fix’”.

GPs will only prescribe opioids “when they are deemed to be the best treatment option, at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time”, Stokes-Lampard added.

In England and Wales, the number of deaths linked to opioid-related drug misuse has reached a record high, with more than 2,000 fatalities in 2016, the latest figures available.

In January, the Government announced a review looking into the way such drugs are prescribed.

Public Health Minister Steve Brine has warned that the UK must not let the issue reach the crisis levels seen in the US, the i newspaper reports.

The deadly epidemic was declared a national emergency in the US last year, with more than 90 people dying from opioid overdoses every day.

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