Opioid painkillers to carry addiction warnings as Goverment warns of dramatic rise in their use

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Such drugs can be highly effective at tackling pain but experts have warned that they do not work for everybody and that GPs were consistently overprescribing.

Certain opioids are available over-the-counter, such as codeine-based painkillers which are weaker in strength but can also cause addiction.

The number of codeine-related deaths in England and Wales has more than doubled in the last ten years, while co-codamol deaths have also increased.

Mr Hancock added: “I have been incredibly concerned by the recent increase in people addicted to opioid drugs.

“Painkillers were a major breakthrough in modern medicine and are hugely important to help people manage pain alongside their busy lives – but they must be treated with caution. We know that too much of any painkiller can damage your health, and some opioids are highly addictive and can ruin lives like an illegal drug.”

The crackdown is backed by Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, who said users needed to be aware of the potentially life-altering risks.

“It is vital that anyone who is prescribed strong painkillers takes them only as long as they are suffering from serious pain,” she said.

“As soon as the pain starts to alleviate, the drugs have done their job, and it is important to switch to over-the-counter medication like paracetamol which do not carry the same risk of addiction that comes with long term use.”

Recent research by the universities of Nottingham and Manchester suggested that Blackpool has the highest level of opioid prescribing in the country, where 10 per cent of the patient population is on opioids. St Helens, in Merseyside, is second highest.

The struggle against opioid addiction in the US is well documented.

Estimates suggest that 350,000 Americans have died from the misuse of prescribed opioids in the past two decades, that overdoses are the leading cause of death for the under-50s and that opioids are killing seven people every hour.

Norman Lamb, the former health minister, warned earlier this year that the UK was in danger of “sleepwalking” into a US-style opioid crisis and called for an overhaul of guidelines on opioid prescribing.



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