A raft of doctors’ leaders have suggested that a 24-hour helpline for prescription drug dependence should be introduced urgently.
The British Medical Association has supported this position, indicating that it is vital for more support to be made available for those attempting to come off certain drugs.
Benzodiazepines – taken for severe anxiety, insomnia and sometimes pain relief – are considered to be a particular cause for concern.
Dr Andrew Green, the BMA’s GP clinical and prescribing policy lead, believes that drug dependence is not being addressed appropriately by existing NHS policy, and that this should be a priority for the authorities.
“Establishing a national helpline should be a top priority to provide better service to individuals with prescribed drug dependence. There is also the need for specialist services to be consistently available across the country. Patients have not had their problems adequately recognised in the past and we need to put that right.”
The BMA has now published its recommendations, calling for the following:
– The UK government, supported by the devolved nations, should introduce a national, 24-hour helpline for prescribed drug dependence.
– Each of the UK governments, relevant health departments and local authorities should establish adequately resourced specialist support services for prescribed drug dependence.
– Clear guidance on tapering and withdrawal management should be developed collaboratively with input from professional groups and patients.
Commenting on the issue, the aforementioned Green outlined the importance of a new helpline.
“We believe that establishing a national helpline, similar to the FRANK service, should be a top priority to provide better service to individuals with prescribed drug dependence. This would provide vital, timely support and could be introduced relatively quickly. Doctors would also welcome more robust guidance on managing prescription medicine dependence and withdrawal.”
Supporting the position of the BMA, academics at the University of Roehampton have recently conducted a study examining the impact of long-term benzodiazepine use.
After looking at the number of people on the drug at 13 GP surgeries in the north of England, the study concluded that if the pattern from research was repeated across the UK, there could be at least 266,000 benzodiazepine users.
Dr James Davies, who worked on the study, concluded that “long-term use and withdrawal is a very serious public health issue that requires more attention than it is currently receiving.”
Responding to the calls for the government to take action, a spokesman for the Department of Health in England indicated that it is both assessing GP prescribing trends, including those for benzodiazepines, and emphasised that helpline services effectively already exist.
“Anyone who is concerned that they may be dependent on medicines which have been prescribed to them can get advice from their GP, a community pharmacist, the 111 helpline or the online NHS Choices service. In addition, the government’s drugs information service, Talk to FRANK provides advice on how to access specialist drug treatment services, including services which help people who have a dependence on a medicine prescribed to them.”