Bid to cut down on prescription opioid addiction

New guidelines to help doctors protect patients from harmful effects

Wednesday 21st August 2019

Health authorities are issuing new guidelines for doctors in a bid to cut down on prescription opioid addiction and overdoses.

Prescriptions for drugs such as codeine, morphine and tramadol have risen significantly in recent years despite ‘limited evidence’ for their long-term effectiveness when it comes to chronic pain.

Chronic pain affects one in five Scots and is commonly caused by long-term conditions including diabetes, arthritis and back pain.

Over 2018-19, there were 2,679,182 prescriptions for opioids dispensed at a cost of around £29m.

Patients prescribed opioid medication carry the risk of addiction and overdose, as well as other side effects such as increased risk of falling.

Under the new rules, doctors will have to review newly prescribed opioid medication early, as well as at least annually.

Professor Lesley A Colvin, who helped draw up the regulations, said the changes should ensure “those who benefit from opioids for chronic pain continue to get the relief they need, but are also protected from potential harmful effects.”

The professor of pain medicine at the University of Dundee explained: “Opioids should only be started after careful assessment and discussion, with agreement that benefits must outweigh risks for continuing use.

“The best evidence tells us that better management of opioid prescribing, alongside consideration of other management strategies – such as supporting increased physical activity – with increased reviewing of patients, will give patients the protection they need.”

Dr Safia Qureshi, director of evidence at Healthcare Improvement Scotland, said: “It’s important that those who need strong pain relief get the medication they need, but are kept safe from the dangerous side-effects associated with these powerful medicines.

“We would urge healthcare professionals to make use of the updated guidelines to ensure that people get the best possible care.”