Health workers displaying ‘woeful ignorance’ over prescription drug dependence

Many health service staff display a “woeful ignorance” about the damage caused to patients by overdependence on prescription drugs, ministers have been told.

Labour health spokesman Lord Hunt of Kings Heath urged the Government to take action nationally to tackle the problem, including getting the NHS to “start taking this seriously”.

Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy acknowledged the problem was “getting worse”.

He pointed out a review was currently being carried out by Public Health England to examine the extent of the problem and how it could be combated. It is due to report next spring.

Raising the issue at Westminster, Lord Hunt (pictured) said: “There is a real problem. Many, many patients are suffering huge damage as a result of overdependence, often because they have been prescribed a particular medicine for too long a period.

“There appears to be woeful ignorance amongst many people in the health service about this impact of dependence.

“There are no national programmes for supporting people. Instead people rely on local charities who are grossly underfunded.”

He added: “Doesn’t the minister think it’s time for a national action plan, a national helpline, support for local charities and getting the NHS to start taking this seriously?”

Lord O’Shaughnessy highlighted research which found a doubling in the use of serious painkillers, while deaths due to opiates, acquired both legally and illegally, had risen by around two-thirds in the last five years.

He said: “We do agree there’s a problem. That’s why the review is taking place.

“It’s undoubtedly the case that we do need a comprehensive approach to dealing with this problem because it is getting worse.”

Independent crossbencher Baroness Meacher, a leading campaigner for drug reform, highlighted “powerful evidence” from the US that one of the most effective ways of reducing dependence on painkillers was to legalise cannabis.

She said: “Cannabis is far less addictive, far less dangerous and yet incredibly effective for large numbers of patients.”

Lord O’Shaughnessy said it was an issue for the Home Office, but pointed out cannabis remained illegal.

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