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GPs urged not to over prescribe painkillers

Joint statement warns of dangers of addiction to painkillers

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 17 January 2013

GPs are being urged to think carefully about over prescribing painkillers to patients who may develop an addiction to the drugs, in a new consensus statement.

The Addiction to Medicines Consensus Statement has been published by the RCGP and the Royal College of Psychiatrists and has been signed by 17 organisations.

The statement, aimed at reducing patient addiction to medicines such as tranquilisers and painkillers, has been backed by professional groups, specialist service providers and voluntary bodies.

It warns against long-term prescribing of medicines that carry a risk of addiction, except in exceptional circumstances, and recommends thorough and regular reviews by practitioners with suitable expertise and understanding.

The statement calls on health and social care professionals, in partnership with service users, to work together to reduce the risk of patient addiction to medicines and to support those who are already dependent.

It highlights the caution needed when reducing and stopping any medication to avoid serious risks of withdrawal and the need to enlist specialist help and advice to manage the physical and psychological aspects of the conditions these patients experience.

Professor Clare Gerada, RCGP chair, said: “Medicines such as tranquilisers do work for many patients but they need to fully understand the risks associated with these drugs and be in a position to make informed choices about their treatment and care plans, including seeking agreement on the duration and review of any proposed course of medication or treatment.

“GPs are well placed to work in partnership with other agencies including the voluntary and charitable sector many of whom offer advice and support including groups who can provide peer to peer support along with vital patient education and information.

“GPs and health professionals are already helping these patients to reduce their medication and understand all the options – but there is general agreement that we all need to do more.”

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Emma Whicher of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Addiction psychiatrists are increasingly working with people who have developed dependence problems with prescribed or over the counter medication.

“Although these medications are beneficial to many people, awareness of the alternatives and risks is also important. This statement recognises the problem and supports people in their recovery. In addition treatment is available and effective for people who develop addiction to prescribed or over the counter medication.”

Other signatories include the British Pain Society, the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, Royal College of Nursing, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and the British Association of Social Workers.

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