Surge in prescriptions for powerful opioid painkillers - report

The number of prescriptions for powerful painkillers in England has nearly doubled in 10 years, it has been reported.

The surge in people taking opioids such as morphine has prompted doctors to warn that people are becoming addicted in greater numbers.

The family of drugs also includes codeine, tramadol and fentanyl, which is many times stronger.

According to the BBC, some 28.3 million opioids were prescribed by GPs in 2017, the equivalent of 2,700 packs an hour.

The figure is around 10 million more than the number of opioid prescriptions in 2007.

Opioids are prescribed to treat severe pain only after consultation with a GP or a pain specialist.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said that doctors take prescribing any medication "very seriously" and they will "never prescribe opioids as a 'quick fix'."

Analysis by the BBC suggested around 2.3 million people aged 16 to 59 in England took a prescription painkiller that had not been prescribed for them in 2016-17.

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, more than 2,000 of the 3,700 drug-related deaths in England and Wales in 2016 involved an opioid.

Heroin is an opioid and deaths related to the Class A drug were included in the figures.

Professor Jonathan Chick, from Castle Craig Hospital, a rehabilitation clinic in Peeblesshire, said the number of patients being treated at the clinic had doubled in five years.

"There is definitely a link between rising numbers of prescriptions and an increase in the number of opioid addicts and related deaths," he said.

An NHS England spokesman told the BBC: "GPs and other health professionals make decisions about what, if any, medication to prescribe based on each individual patient's specific condition and circumstances.

"GPs and hospitals are working to ensure every prescription is both safe and effective, and the Care Quality Commission can investigate instances where these drugs appear to be given too frequently."

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