Opioid dependency is on the rise. NHS SMPA’s Vice Chair, Emily Finch, talked to BBC Radio 4 about the prescription of opioid-based medication in the UK


Public Health England has launched a new review on the use of prescription opioid medicines in the UK. The results of the review are expected to be reported this spring.

NHS SMPA’s Dr. Emily Finch was invited onto BBC’s Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday to discuss opioid use in England.

Following discussion with councillor Nikki Hari, who described her previous addiction to prescription opioid painkillers, Dr Emily Finch was asked if opioid dependency is common:

“It’s quite common...and like a lot of people, Nikki describes it as sort of creeping up on her, it happened without any warning, without her understanding this was a potential risk; and its important that any review the government does makes sure that both patients and prescribers understand what the risks of opiates are, [that they understand] how to treat pain properly so that people don’t get into those sorts of situations which can be lifelong and very difficult to treat.”

When asked if individuals could treat pain without the use of opioids, Dr. Finch responded:

“There are some alternatives and it's also important to remember not all treatment for pain has to be tablets or pharmacology. There are many other ways of treating pain: going for physio, doing the operation at the right time, also having really skilled pain doctors who understand the implications of prescribing and who understand when to prescribe properly.”

A 2018 study by researchers at the University of Cambridge found that nine of England’s top ten highest opioid prescribers are found in the northern part of the country. The study cited deprived areas as being more likely to prescribe opioids than those in wealthier parts of the country.

According to Dr. Finch:

“We know that prescribing associates with deprivation, it's also rising and certainly the amount of drugs rising that doctors are prescribing, the doses have gone up in the last few years. That said, I think it’s fair to say that we have not seen signs of a major epidemic like that in the US.”

The United States declared opiate misuse a national emergency in 2017. The declaration has since drawn attention to the prevalence of opiate addiction in other countries. Further and more in depth training needs to be delivered to ensure that doctors can prescribe appropriately, fully understanding the implications of their decision to prescribe opioid painkillers.