Over the last year, 807 people have died from overdosing on prescription drugs. That is a rise of 16 percent in five years.
This new drug problem is in sharp contrast to the trends seen in older more established illicit drugs. The number of cocaine and heroin related deaths only hit 718 over the past year and these numbers have been dropping since 2005.
Much of this new growth in prescription drug addiction is being believed to be caused by GPs willingness to prescribe powerful painkillers for longer periods of time.
Most experts believe that painkillers that are possibly addictive should not be prescribed for more than four weeks. Unfortunately, some GPs write much longer prescriptions or grant repeated refills which can drastically increase the chances of developing a problem with the prescription.
Doctors may also be wrongfully prescribing painkillers for conditions like depression or bereavement. These conditions are better treated with counselling as depression can actually drive people further into addiction and make it much more difficult to start recovery.
With long term exposure to things like opiate based painkillers, it is no wonder the number of prescription addictions are rising in the UK. Some experts believe there are as many as 32,000 painkiller addicts in Britain but this may actually be an underestimate. Labour MP Jim Dobbin has called for swift government action saying, “This can be long-term addiction and there is very little support for addicts. There needs to be more understanding of how serious this problem is.
Lives are being destroyed and people are being left without the help and support they need. The Government has refused to accept the scale of the problem.”
Dr Des Spence, who practises in Glasgow, said, “There has been this rising culture of intervention with medication – whether it is for depression or anxiety or pain – and I think it can be very unhelpful. It can erode people’s sense of wellbeing. The cure of these things is not necessarily in the gift of medicine.”
Currently, the British spend £500 million a year buying painkillers at the chemist and many of these are long term prescriptions. What has experts especially worried is the large number of women who are becoming addicted to prescriptions given by their GPs. So far there has been a 30 percent rise in prescription addictions over the past five years.
To stem this tide of addiction it will be necessary to provide some combination of restrictions, better training for GPs and public education to dispel misconceptions about drug abuse. With this three pronged approach, the UK may be able to stem the tide of prescription addiction.