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Doctors warn the NHS is fuelling an addiction crisis because of an increase in the prescribing of powerful painkillers. Nearly 24 million opioids, such as morphine, were prescribed in 2017 – equivalent to 2,700 packs an hour. A drugs counsellor and former user told the BBC the NHS was “creating drug addicts”.

The Royal College of GPs said doctors would not prescribe opioid painkillers as a “quick fix”. Opioids such as morphine, tramadol and fentanyl are super-strength painkillers, which can be highly addictive and can kill if misused.

An investigation by BBC News has found:

More than two million working age people in England are estimated to have taken a prescription painkiller that was not prescribed for them in 2016-17.

GPs in England prescribed 23.8 million opioid-based painkillers in 2017, the equivalent of 2,700 items every hour.

This was 10 million more prescriptions than in 2007.

The prescribing rate of opioid painkillers in parts of northern England is four times higher than in London.

The Royal College of GPs said doctors would not prescribe opioid painkillers irresponsibly.

“GPs take prescribing any medication incredibly seriously and will never prescribe opioids as a ‘quick fix’,” said chairwoman Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard.

“GPs will continue to work closely with patients in chronic pain by inviting them for regular medication reviews, and prescribing opioids when they are deemed to be the best treatment option, at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “GPs and other health professionals make decisions about what, if any, medication to prescribe based on each individual patient’s specific condition and circumstances. GPs and hospitals are working to ensure every prescription is both safe and effective, and the Care Quality Commission can investigate instances where these drugs appear to be given too frequently.”




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