Industry and Health Trade Union Respond to Government Review into Prescription Meds

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The ABPI and BMA have issued responses to the publication of a government report into the scale and distribution of prescribed medicines in England.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the British Medical Association (BMA) have issued responses to the publication of a report by Public Health England (PHE) into the scale and distribution of prescribed medicines in England.

PHE’s review includes evidence on the dependence and withdrawal issues encountered throughout England with five common classes of medicines prescribed for pain, depression, and insomnia. The main findings of the review are that one in four adults in England have been prescribed at least one of the classes of medicines examined in the year ending in March 2018. Of those patients, 50% were receiving continuous prescriptions for at least 12 months, with between 22% and 32% receiving continuous prescriptions for at least three years.

“This important report paints a picture of how these medicines are being used across the United Kingdom,” said Dr. Sheuli Porkess, executive director, Research, Medical, and Innovation at ABPI, in a Sep. 10, 2019 press release. “Medicines prescribed for pain, depression, and insomnia support millions of people every day. But it’s critical that they are used in the right way and that regular reviews give patients the support they need to come off a medicine when necessary. Pharmaceutical companies are fully committed to playing their part. We’re working with the MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency], PHE, and other professional bodies to help make sure that all medicines are prescribed and used safely and appropriately.”

“We have seen the devastation that addiction to prescription drugs has had in the United States, and while the problem [in the UK] is on a lesser scale, doctors in the UK are of course concerned at the number of patients being prescribed these medicines, and the length of time they are taking them for,” stated Dr. Andrew Green, BMA’s representative during the review process, in a Sep. 10, 2019 press release. “Indeed, [the] report shows that prescription rates for some drugs-including opioid painkillers-are beginning to fall thanks to doctors actively working with their patients to avoid inappropriate prescribing.”


“While there isn’t a single cause for high prescription rates, social deprivation, an increased prevalence of mental health problems, and poor access to mental healthcare, a rise in the demand for GP services and a growing, aging population, are likely to be significant contributing factors,” Green added. “It is positive that this report recognizes that to reduce prescription levels, we need significant investment in support services … And while there remains a place for prescribing the kinds of drugs this report covers-including, in some circumstances, for long-term use-we need many more alternatives to medication, such as pain clinics, improved access to mental health services, and physiotherapy-the universal provision of which are all lacking.”

Long-term prescribing of opioids is commonly associated with dependency and withdrawal symptoms; however, the PHE review explicitly states that patients concerned about any prescription medication should not stop taking it suddenly but should consult with their doctor for support and advice.

Sources: Gov.ukABPIBMA