Shocking number of Sheffield people hooked on prescription drugs like anti-depressants and strong painkillers

Tens of thousands of Sheffield people are hooked on prescription drugs including high-strength painkillers and antidepressants, shock new figures show.

By George Torr, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 3rd October 2019, 6:37 pm
Updated Monday, 7th October 2019, 12:33 pm
A doctor writes out a prescription. Picture: PA Wire.
A doctor writes out a prescription. Picture: PA Wire.

Government figures show over 95,000 residents were prescribed drugs such as opioid pain relief like codeine, gabpentinoids for neuropathic pain, benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanex for anxiety and panic attacks and so-called Z-drugs which are commonly used for sleep disorders.

Of that figure, 51,000 people – equating to 54 per cent – were on a repeat prescription for at least 12 months described as ‘very worrying’ by rehabilitation experts.

Sheffield health bosses said their dependency figures are lower than the national average but admitted there is still work to do.

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A bottle of Paxil antidepressant pills. (Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On the back of the publication of prescription medication data, Public Health England has said they will launch a full review.

UK Addiction Treatment - a group of rehabs which treat patients for prescription drug addiction - has welcomed the review and hopes that it will serve as a ‘serious wake up call’.

Nuno Albuquerque, group treatment lead at UKAT, said: “This report shows us that thousands of people living across South Yorkshire are crying out for help, and unfortunately, they’re being given plasters in the form of pills to solve their problems.

“There is no doubt that in the short-term, these drugs may help, but long-term use of these drugs, for the majority, will be ineffective because over time, the patient is likely to develop physical and psychological tolerance to the drug.

Dr Andrew McGinty

“These figures suggest to me that GP's here are stretched and overwhelmed and need better support and investment to be able to offer alternative treatment therapies like talking therapy, yoga, exercise, diet, and acupuncture to better tackle the root cause of their patients problems, instead of simply issuing a repeat prescription."

Officials at Public Health England have stated that long-term use on such a scale ‘could not be justified’ and was a sign of patients becoming dependent.

Dr Andrew McGinty, GP and clinical director at NHS Sheffield CCG, said: “We work closely with our GP partners to improve prescribing of all drugs. Some examples of the work we are undertaking to improve prescribing and reduce long term prescribing for these type of drugs include, using alternative measures such as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services instead of drugs and helping patients adapt to lower doses of drugs.

“The results of this effort can be seen in the data – our figures are lower than the national average and the lowest in the South Yorkshire area. We will continue to work with GPs to improve these figures further and ensure patients are getting the best treatments for their condition.”

File photo of a woman receiving her prescription medicine from a pharmacist. Photo: Paul Faith/PA Wire

The drugs in more detail

Opiate prescription pain medicines can include codeine, morphine, fentanyl and Hydrocodone. Gabapentinoids (primarily gabapentin and pregabalin) are generally prescribed for epilepsy neuropathic pain. Pregabalin is also used for anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety, panic disorders and they act as muscle relaxants and include drugs like Xanax and Valium. Z-drugs are generally prescribed for sleep disorders and include zopiclone.

The stats in full (percentage shows amount of Sheffield people receiving prescription for 12 months or more)

Number receiving prescription for antidepressants: 51,955 (54%)

Codeine is a high -strength painkiller which can become addictive. Photo:FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Image

Number receiving prescription for opioid pain relief: 26,462 (53%)

Number receiving prescription for gabapentinoids: 9,252 (58%)

Number receiving prescription for benzodiazepines: 4,302 (53%)

Number receiving prescription for Z-drugs: 3,204 (52%)