Opioid prescriptions rising in the UK, with 14 per cent of patients becoming long-term users

  • Jani M & al.
  • PLoS Med

  • curated by Dawn O'Shea
  • UK Medical News
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In the UK, new prescriptions for multiple opioids have risen steadily in recent years, leading to concerning rates of long-term use, especially in older, socially deprived patients, according to findings of a new study published in PLoS Medicine.

To evaluate prescribing trends and to understand the risk factors for long-term opioid use in the UK, researchers led by the University of Manchester studied 1,968,742 new opioid users.

Their analysis showed that opioid prescriptions, especially codeine, morphine and oxycodone, all increased substantially from 2006 to 2017. Overall, 14.6 per cent of patients with new opioid prescriptions became long-term users, starting in their first year.

A small percentage of physicians were 'high-risk prescribers' whose patients were up to 3.5 times more likely to use opioids continually. People were more likely to become long-term users if they were older; experiencing social deprivation; had a history of self-harm, suicide attempts, substance or alcohol abuse, fibromyalgia or rheumatological diseases.

The study's findings support the call for action for safer and more consistent opioid prescription practices in the UK to avoid the addiction epidemic seen in many other countries. The authors recommend that physicians should take care when prescribing high initial doses of opioids and should closely monitor patients with risk factors for long-term use. They point out that identifying general practices with abnormally high prescription rates through audit and feedback tools could help drive safer prescribing practices.