GPs should prescribe highly addictive painkillers and benzodiazepines in ‘exceptional circumstances only’ in a bid to reduce patient addiction rates, says the RCGP.
The RCGP was among 17 health organisations who issued the Addiction to Medicines consensus statement on Wednesday. It called on GPs to promote non-pharmacological options such as ‘physical rehabilitation advice for pain conditions; and lifestyle advice, psychological and social therapies and support interventions for anxiety, depression and pain conditions’.
The statement said: ‘Longer term prescribing can increase the risk of dependence, and with some medicines, such as tranquillisers like benzodiazepines, should only be considered under exceptional circumstances and with regular review by practitioners with suitable expertise and understanding of the risks.’
With almost 18 million prescriptions written every year, the statement says it is GPs’ responsibility to ensure patients understand the risks of pharmacological treatments from the outset.
RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada said: ‘Medicines such as tranquillisers 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.’
Resolving the problem of patient addiction to prescribed drugs will demand continued GP support in order to avoid serious, long-term withdrawal symptoms, the organisations added. This includes GPs working in partnership with charity and voluntary sector organisations to ensure patients receive the best support and advice possible throughout the process of their recovery.
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.’
Dr Mohammed Jiva, secretary for Rochdale and Bury LMC, said: ‘Patients should be informed about the potential risks of medication they are taking, and it should be a part of the discussion of why they are taking the medication and how it will help them.’