New research has shown a significant increase in prescriptions of opioids for managing chronic pain in the United Kingdom between 1998 and 2018.
Researchers at the University of Oxford conducted a review of opioid prescribing in the United Kingdom using prescribing data in the NHS from 1998 to 2018.
A 34% increase in opioid prescribing was witnessed between 1998 and 2016, which rose to 127% after correcting for total oral morphine equivalency. However, a decline in prescriptions was observed between 2016 and 2017. Physicians were also found to be prescribing stronger opioid drugs to patients.
A significant regional variation was observed across the country, the northern and coastal areas having the highest prescribers and Greater London having the lowest. Factors associated with higher rates of high-dose prescribing included larger practice list size, ruralness, and deprivation.
Ben Goldacre, the lead author, said: "The United States is in the middle of an opioid crisis. The United Kingdom use has not yet matched that scale, but our work shows that close monitoring is needed." He calls for a change in prescription practices, such as prescribing lower doses for a shorter duration to reduce the economic burden on the NHS.