GPs told to report data on patients addicted to prescription drugs

Practices should keep records on patients suspected of being addicted to prescription drugs and how they get access to medicines to understand the scale of misuse in the UK, MPs have said.

The extent of addiction to prescription drugs in the UK is 'unquantified', MPs said

A report by the House of Commons Home Office Affairs committee said GPs should report anonymised data on patients being treated for prescription drug addiction to a central monitoring database.

Practices should also keep anonymised records of how patients suspected of, or proven to be, misusing prescription drugs are getting hold of them.

MPs said they were ‘concerned’ how few doctors in the UK are prosecuted for supplying prescription drugs illegally.

GP leaders warned that patients' sensitive personal data must be kept secure.

The report published on Friday, Drugs: new psychoactive substances and prescription drugs, also said there is now an ‘epidemic’ of psychoactive substance use in the UK, with an average of one new drug created each week.

Deaths involving new ‘legal highs’ such as mephedrone rose from 29 to 52 between 2011 and 2012, a rise of 79%.

Prescription drug addiction ‘unquantified’

An estimated 1.5m people in the UK are addicted to prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers. But there has been little progress on improving data collection to understand the problem better, MPs said.

The BMA and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recently announced steps to examine the UK’s dependence on prescription drugs. But MPs believe ‘the geographical spread and the scale of the problem must be definitively established’.

They called on medical practices to ‘start an anonymous data collection of those patients who have been proven to be, or a medical professional has reasonable suspicion of being, addicted to prescription drugs and how they are being supplied’.

The MPs asked the RCGP to produce guidance calling for GPs treating prescription drug addiction to report all cases to the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System, ‘to further clarify the prevalence of prescription drug misuse’.

Lack of prosecutions 'worrying'

Prosecutions for supplying prescription drugs illegally are far less common in the UK than the US, they said, leading to concerns that 'healthcare professionals in the UK are able to supply prescription drugs illegally without fear of prosecution’.

They also called for CCGs to take responsibility for collecting data on patients visiting multiple practices to request specific drugs, known as ‘doctor-shopping’, which is cited as a cause of high rates of dependency on prescription drugs in the US.

Keith Vaz MP (Lab, Leicester East), chairman of the committee, said: ‘The abuse of these types of substances is taking place in the shadows and its extent is still unquantified. 

‘Local GPs need to report their suspicions and collate information to illuminate this problem. If we do not act the catastrophic consequences of tomorrow can be seen in the US today.’

GPC chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'GPs already play a key role in treating patients in the community suffering from the impact of drug addiction. It is a devastating medical condition that ruins lives, families and communities and it is right that we continuously look at how we can improve drug addiction treatment.

'However, the identification of individuals addicted to prescription drugs is not straightforward and whilst we should do all we can to support their withdrawal from such drugs, we also need to ensure that patients are confident that their sensitive personal data will remain secure.'

In January 2013, two medical royal colleges warned GPs to refrain from long-term prescribing of drugs with a risk of addiction to avoid the 'devastating' impact on patients and their families.

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