Pharmacists must take an active role in monitoring patients who are prescribed addictive medicines, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has said.

A major new review by Public Health England (PHE) published today (10 September) found that over 11 million adults were prescribed addictive drugs between 2017 and 2018 in England.

The review, which looked at data for five commonly prescribed medicines - antidepressants, opioids, gabapentinoids, benzodiazepines and z-drugs - found that 26% of adults in England received a prescription for one or more of these drugs in the 12 months prior to March 2018.

RPS England chair Claire Anderson welcomed the review and highlighted the importance of monitoring patients who take addictive medicines ‘closely’.

She said: ‘As the role of pharmacists – including as prescribers – grows across the NHS, they have an increasingly important role to play in discussing and reviewing medicines with patients.

‘This must be part of a collaborative approach as patient involvement in decisions about their health is crucial to success, particularly when dependence is an issue.’

Ms Anderson added: ‘Pharmacists can also support GPs by examining prescribing data to reveal any underlying patterns and understand more about local provision of these medicines.’


Regular reviews needed


The data showed that in March 2018, among all those people in receipt of a prescription, around half of patients for each medicine type were estimated to have been receiving a prescription continuously for at least 12 months.

While long-term prescribing may be clinically appropriate for some patients, the review stressed the importance of regular reviews to avoid people developing dependence or experiencing withdrawal.

'Patients may come to medical appointments with a clear expectation that medicines will meet their needs, and some will assertively make a case to receive a prescription. Increased awareness among the public and clinicians of treatments that are alternative, or supplementary, to medicines, and of the risks and benefits of medicines, is vital,' said the report.

Ms Anderson added that while the long-term answer ‘doesn’t lie in the prescription pad’, any reduction in prescribing must be combined with patient access to other services or support such as social prescribing or talking therapies.

She said: ‘An absence of support can mean that people turn to unregulated online websites to get the medicines they think they need without a prescription, which is highly dangerous.

‘Healthcare professionals across primary care must work together and be proactive in raising issues with patients and GPs to ensure patient safety is prioritised at all times.’

The review was announced in January in response to NHS Digital data that showed an increase in the number of patients prescribed an addictive medicine in the past five years.

In April, it was announced that all opioid medicines in the UK will carry addiction warnings on their labels.