GP over-prescription and service underfunding creating a nation dependent on potentially harmful medications

Opinion from Victoria Nunn

This month (September '19), a report published by Public Health England highlighted that the NHS could be heading for yet another crisis, as an increasing number of people are becoming physically and psychologically reliant upon pain, anti-depressant and insomnia medications as GPs struggle to satisfy demand for services and support their patients in a growing culture American-style pharmaceutical companies, quick fixes and savage cuts to health and social services.

“Nearly 12 million people – about one in four adults in England – are taking medicines for pain, depression or insomnia, which they can find hard to stop.” (The Guardian, 10.09.19)

Numerous articles and commentaries have covered this issue using the language of ‘addiction’ -however despite it making for eye-catching headlines, this is not a productive or beneficial stance. The term ‘addict’ comes with negative connotations, stigma and misunderstanding, encouraging blame, all preventing people who may be at risk seeking support and constructive solutions.

People are increasingly being prescribed medications for pain management, mental health issues and sleep disorders without the proper assessments and without appropriate follow up and review, meaning some people are prescribed medications when social interventions and psychological or physical therapies would be more appropriate, and over time they can become dependent on these medications without even realising.

I am not ‘anti-medication’ but I do believe patients need to be properly reviewed and able to make informed decisions about their care. I have tried numerous anti-depressants and was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2013. I currently take daily medication (along with therapy) and will gladly continue to do so if it keeps me stable.

“There may be good reasons for people to use antidepressants over a long period, but the widespread prescribing of opioid painkillers, benzodiazepines and sleeping pills needs to change, the review says. GPs should instead consider social prescribing, from talking therapies to joining a choir.” (The Guardian, 10.09.19)

So, after this report we are left with more questions than answers, as is so often the case:
Is the NHS going to help GPs to be better able to communicate their limitations as practitioners and better inform patients of the risks of these medications?

Will there be more training, support and awareness raising for GPs on alternatives to work alongside medications such as therapy and social prescribing, and will these services be given the urgent cash injection they so desperately need after years of aggressive cuts?

And of course, will the people who are identified as dependent and/or feel they are ready for help, be offered the non-judgemental assistance they will need to wean themselves from these medications and be moved forward into the appropriate support?

Read the full Guardian article here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/sep/10/addictive-medication-nhs-opioid-crisis-government-study-england

If you are concerned at all about any medications you are taking please consult your GP or specialist before making any changes.  MHNE as always are interested in your views - http://mhne.org.uk/get-involved/contact-us