RCGP warns GPs over painkiller addiction

GPs should refrain from long-term prescribing of drugs with a risk of addiction, including strong painkillers, to avoid the 'devastating' impact on patients and their families, according to medical royal colleges.

Professor Clare Gerada: painkiller addiction warning
Professor Clare Gerada: painkiller addiction warning

The consenus statement from the RCGP and the Royal College of Psychiatrists said more needs to be done to counter the harm caused by patient addiction to medicines such as tranquillisers.

GPs must be careful when initiating drugs that can lead to dependence and in managing the risk and development of withdrawal symptoms, the colleges said.

Long-term prescribing of these drugs should be considered only in exception circumstances. Any course of treatment should include an agreement with the patient on the duration, and incorporate regular reviews. Non-drug alternatives can be considered instead.

RCGP chairwoman 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, including seeking agreement on the duration and review of any proposed course of medication or treatment.'

She said GPs were 'well placed' to work with orther agencies to offer advice and support for patients, and that this approach had helped patients to recover. 'GPs and health professionals are already helping these patients to reduce their medication and understand all the options – but there is general agreement that we all need to do more,' she said.

GPs will be able to access factsheets for their practice to keep them informed about latest developments in this area.

It comes after a BMA report on Tuesday said health should be at the heart of UK drug policy.

NHS Alliance chairman Dr Michael Dixon said the organisation agreed tranquillisers should not be given long-term: 'Doctors and patients can be hedged in to a corner though when there is nothing else to offer in the short and sometimes medium term; it is too often either tablets, a longish wait for psychiatric help, counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy, or nothing.'

He said that GP surgeries should be helped to offer more options, such as stress classes or support from a health adviser. He said he hoped CCGs would introduce 'more innovative and caring' alternatives for patients.

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