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The Daily Mail
By Ben Spencer and Isabella Fish For The Daily Mail
Published: 00:13, 24 January 2018 | Updated: 00:30, 24 January 2018
A review into growing crisis of prescription drug addiction has been launched
Figures show one in 11 patients are prescribed potentially addictive drugs
They are given drugs after an operation, then left on them for months or years
The Mail, backed by charities and MPs, has been campaigning for almost a year for the Government to recognise the scale of the crisis
Ministers have launched an urgent review into the growing crisis of prescription drug addiction, in a victory for the Daily Mail.
Figures show one in 11 patients are prescribed potentially addictive drugs such as sedatives, tranquillisers and painkillers – up 50 per cent since 2000.
Problems often arise when they are given drugs after an operation, then left on them for months or years at a time.
Having been given the drugs by their doctor, patients get hooked through no fault of their own, with little access to help.
The Mail, backed by charities and MPs, has been campaigning for almost a year for the Government to recognise the scale of the crisis. Public health minister Steve Brine last night admitted prescription drug addiction was becoming a ‘big issue’ – and said he wants to stop it turning into the ‘huge problem’ seen in countries such as the US.
Ministers have launched an urgent review into the growing crisis of prescription drug addiction, in a victory for the Daily Mail
He added: ‘I want to say thank you to the Mail for banging the drum on this issue – you have raised the profile of the problem.’
His review will also look into antidepressants, now relied on by one in ten Britons.Although not addictive, these drugs can cause crippling withdrawal effects to those coming off them.
Mr Brine ordered Public Health England (PHE) to examine why so many patients were given potentially addictive drugs last year – and to come up with ways to control use. Officials will publish a full scoping document in the coming weeks, with review findings due early next year.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence, and the British Medical Association – which have worked with the Mail – want a 24-hour helpline.
There is no specific support for the patients who become hooked on prescription drugs, despite the extensive resources spent on helping those abusing illegal ones. This means the only help available is from addiction services frequented by heroin and cocaine addicts – meaning victims feel they are labelled as illicit drug users.
Paul Flynn MP, chairman of the parliamentary group, said the review was a ‘first step’ towards these services, adding: ‘Prescribed drug dependence can have devastating consequences for patients, leading to years of unnecessary suffering and disability following withdrawal from medication which has simply been taken directed by a doctor.’
Evidence suggests the prescribing of potentially addictive medicines has increased 3 per cent over five years, with 8.9 per cent given the drugs last year.
And 7.6 per cent of adults take prescription-only painkillers not prescribed to them.
Side Effects Of Antidepressants Ruined My Life: Tabitha Says She Was Not Told About Withdrawal Symptoms
Tabitha Dow says her life has been ruined by a prescription for antidepressants.
Suffering from constant migraines, the 33-year-old sought help from the National Migraine Centre in 2014.
She said the charity suggested visiting her GP and taking an antidepressant called Venlafaxine.
Miss Dow, of Windsor, Berkshire, was prescribed the drug – but was not told of withdrawal symptoms.
Tabitha Dow, 33, says her life has been ruined by a prescription for antidepressants
The former research assistant at King’s College University said: ‘I ended up taking the Venlafaxine, but it didn’t help at all with my mood or migraine. So in 2015 the GP added [antidepressant] Mirtazapine to my prescription, but again, I didn’t feel the effects so began taking both – as advised by my GP.
‘This gave me awful side effects. I would sleep excessively. For example, one day I woke up at 10am and the next thing I knew it was 5pm.
‘I had fallen back to sleep and began missing work because of it. It left me with a chemical sensation all over my body, like an electric current.’
She said her GP advised stopping the medication completely, but she found an online group warning of severe withdrawal symptoms and cut the dosage instead.
‘The side effects were absolutely unbearable and I had such a traumatic experience,’ Miss Dow said. ‘All I could think of was, this is so bad… but imagine if I’d done what the GP told me and completely stopped taking them.’
She was forced to give up her job in London and move back in with her parents.
Miss Dow, who still takes Venlafaxine and receives disability benefits, said: ‘It has honestly completely ruined my life. At my age I should be married with children by now, but this is completely holding me back … when I’ve gone to GPs for help they just say ‘sorry, I don’t know how to help you’.’
Rosanna O’Connor, of PHE, said: ‘It is of real concern that so many people find themselves dependent on or suffering withdrawal symptoms from prescribed medicines.
‘Many will have sought help for a health problem only to find later on they have a further obstacle to overcome.’ She said it was ‘vital that we have the best understanding possible of how widespread these problems are, the harms they cause, as well as the most effective ways to prevent them happening and how best to help those in need’.
Dr Andrew Green, of the British Medical Association, added: ‘We welcome this important review into prescription drug dependence, which can have a devastating impact on the lives of those affected. Doctors see first-hand the need for greater action and support to tackle this problem.’
The UK has the fourth-most medicalised population in the Western world when it comes to antidepressants. Women are twice as likely to be on them as men, and overall prescriptions have doubled in a decade.
Figures show one in 11 patients are prescribed potentially addictive drugs such as sedatives, tranquillisers and painkillers – up 50 per cent since 2000
Experts say this is partly because people are better at seeking help, but it is also down to a crisis in NHS mental health services, with long waiting lists for counselling meaning patients have to use pills to cope instead.
Experts estimate half of patients on the drugs have been taking them for more than two years.
Benzodiazepine sedatives – a class of drugs including Valium – are prescribed for anxiety or sleeplessness, but are highly addictive, with those who take them for more than six weeks facing a 50 per cent chance of addiction.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, welcomed the review, saying: ‘Many addictive medications, when prescribed and monitored correctly, and in line with clinical guidelines, can be very effective in treating a wide range of health conditions. But all drugs will have risks and potential side effects.’
Professor Wendy Burn, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, added: ‘Addiction is a serious mental illness and the rising number of deaths by opioids make this review timely.’