Big in­crease in hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions for opi­oid painkiller over­doses

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Sarah Marsh

The num­ber of pa­tients ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal for over­dos­ing on pow­er­ful opi­oid painkillers has more than dou­bled in a decade, with doc­tors say­ing it is a “very wor­ry­ing” con­se­quence of the drugs be­ing pre­scribed too read­ily.

Data from NHS Dig­i­tal shows an in­crease in peo­ple at­tend­ing hos­pi­tal with poi­son­ing from pre­scrip­tion opi­oids such as codeine, mor­phine, oxy­codone and fen­tanyl ris­ing from 4,891 in 2005-06 to 11,660 last year in Eng­land.

Dr Jane Quin­lan, a con­sul­tant in anaes­the­sia and pain man­age­ment at the Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity Hos­pi­tals NHS foun­da­tion trust, de­scribed the in­crease as very wor­ry­ing. But she said the fig­ures did not make it clear whether the rise was re­lated to peo­ple with ad­dic­tion tak­ing drugs not pre­scribed to them or whether it was pa­tients who had been pre­scribed opi­oids for their pain tak­ing too much by ac­ci­dent. Quin­lan said: “These fig­ures con­firm fears that the in­crease in opi­oid pre­scrib­ing and avail­abil­ity has broader con­se­quences.”

A 10-year data time­line shows num­bers of pa­tients ad­mit­ted for opi­oid poi­son­ing have risen year on year since 2005, reach­ing 12,254 in 2013-14 be­fore drop­ping the year af­ter and then ris­ing again to more than 11,660 last year – though it should be noted that tra­madol was only added to ad­mis­sions data in 2012. Over the same pe­riod pre­scrip­tions of opi­oids have risen steeply, with the num­ber is­sued ris­ing from 12m in 2006 to 24m in 2016.

Harry Shapiro, the di­rec­tor of DrugWise, an on­line drug in­for­ma­tion ser­vice, said: “The key drug here is tra­madol. There is a jump in ad­mis­sions once they in­cluded it in the sta­tis­tics.

“The drug is one of the most pop­u­lar opi­ate painkillers to be pre­scribed for pain and num­bers of pre­scrip­tions have risen dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years. The drug is also used by street drug users and even recre­ation­ally to en­hance the ef­fects of al­co­hol, for which rea­son it is a class C drug un­der the Mis­use of Drugs Act.”

Doc­tors have warned about pre­scrip­tions for painkillers be­ing given too read­ily, with re­cent es­ti­mates sug­gest­ing more than 192,000 peo­ple in the UK could be de­pen­dent on such drugs as a re­sult.

Dr Barry Miller from the Fac­ulty of Pain Medicine at the Royal Col­lege of Anaes­thetists said: “The mis­use and un­nec­es­sary pre­scrip­tion of opi­oid painkillers are is­sues of se­ri­ous con­cern.

“While some of the in­creased use of opi­oid painkillers in the UK can be at­trib­uted to an im­proved un­der­stand­ing of the ef­fec­tive­ness of these medicines by medical pro­fes­sion­als, the Fac­ulty of Pain Medicine is con­cerned by re­ports of some un­nec­es­sary pre­scrip­tions.”

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