NHS launches crackdown on highly addictive painkillers – giving new powers to GPs and pharmacists

OPIOID prescriptions have been slashed by nearly half a million in four years, health bosses reveal.

The NHS today announced a crackdown strategy for the potentially addictive painkillers.

GettyOpioids are drugs including codeine, fentanyl and morphine that are derived from the same poppy plant as heroin[/caption]

GPs and pharmacists will be given greater powers to offer alternatives to the drugs, which are now dished out to around 5.2million Brits a year.

Reducing prescriptions by 450,000 since 2019 has already saved the lives of around 350 people, the health service said.

Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England said: “We know patients who require prescriptions for potentially addictive drugs can become dependent.

“The plan gives clear guidance to support patients who no longer need these drugs to move them on to other, alternative therapies where appropriate.”

Opioids are drugs like codeine, fentanyl and morphine that are derived from the same poppy plant as heroin.

They are commonly prescribed for conditions that cause severe pain, including cancer.

But medics were concerned about rising numbers of prescriptions for the drugs because they can be incredibly addictive and cause brain damage or death when taken in high doses.

The US is at the centre of the opioid crisis, but opioid use has been an increasing public concern in Britain, being responsible for half of all drug poisonings. 

The latest NHS data show reducing the number of prescriptions has prevented more than 2,100 patients from experiencing harm.

The number of sedatives called benzodiazepines and sleeping pills have also fallen by 170,000 and 95,000 respectively since a 2019 review, it showed.

Professor Tony Avery, of NHS England, said: “Medicines offer a fantastic range of tools for staff to provide patient care and treatment that can be life-saving.

“However, we need to be alert to the risks of some medicines, particularly when used over a long period of time.

“The framework we are publishing today empowers local services to work with people to ensure they are being effectively supported when a medicine is no longer providing overall benefit”.