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Doctors call for 24-hour helpline for prescription drug dependent patients

24 October 2016

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The British Medical Association is calling for a 24 hour national helpline to help patients addicted to prescription drugs.

It wants the UK government, with backing from devolved nations, to set up the phoneline to support people with prescribed drug dependence and their families and carers.

Dr Andrew Green, the BMA’s clinical and prescribing policy lead said: “We believe that establishing a national helpline, similar to the FRANK service (drugs helpline), should be a top priority to provide better service to individuals with prescribed drug dependence. This would provide vital, timely support sand could be introduced relatively quickly.”

The BMA and drug dependence charities looked at the problem of dependence and withdrawal linked to medications including benzodiazepines, “Z-drugs”  prescribed for insomnia – zolpidem, zopliclone and zaleplon, opioids and antidepressants.

In 2015  prescribers  wrote 98 million prescriptions for  antidepressants, benzodiazepine and opioids, costing £545.5 million, said the BMA.

Although there is no authoritative data on the number of patients affected by dependence and withdrawal it is estimated that there are  1 million long-term users of benzodiazepines and around 4 million people are thought to be taking antidepressants at any time.

The recommendation follows roundtable meetings hosted by the BMA’s board of science. They heard from stakeholders on how to improve and managed prescribed drug dependence.

The doctors’ union said the UK governments, health departments and local authorities should have adequately resourced specialist support services for patients  dependent on prescribed drug dependence.

Dr Green said doctors would welcome more robust guidance in managing dependence and withdrawal from prescription medicines.

It said the provision of services is “inconsistent” across the country.

However it highlighted local services including The Bridge Project in Bradford, Yorkshire and Tranx in Oldham in Lancashire which help people recover from addiction.

Dr Green said: “Patients are often referred to general drug and alcohol services, which do not have adequate resources and whose skills are different to those needed to mange prescription drug dependence.

“This would ensure patients, carers and families have access to trusted and expert advice and support.”

The BMA also recommends professionals and patients to develop clear guidance on tapering and withdrawal management.

It called for evidence from stakeholders in March 2014 and published a report on their views last October.