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Patients dependent on medicines need more support

Commenting on the publication of the Public Health England review ‘Dependence and withdrawal associated with some prescribed medicines’, Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England Professor Claire Anderson said:

“We welcome this first-ever review into antidepressants, opioid pain medications, gabapentinoids, benzodiazepines, and z-drugs.

“These medicines can be very useful for some patients, but they are also associated with dependence and risk of harm. This means it’s incredibly important that prescribing guidelines are followed and that patients taking them are monitored closely.

“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. Pharmacists can also support GPs by examining prescribing data to reveal any underlying patterns and understand more about local provision of these medicines.

“Patients with pain, mental health issues and anxiety want to be free of them and often the long-term answer for these conditions doesn’t lie in the prescription pad. Reducing prescribing may be appropriate but must be combined with access to other services such as talking therapies, mental health support and social prescribing. Services are also needed for those with addiction issues who cannot or will not access traditional drug treatment services because of the stigma. Such measures would reduce harm whilst also being more effective for many patients.

“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.

“Patients with concerns about their medicines should not stop taking them but talk to a health professional as help and advice are always available.”

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