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UK to add addiction warnings to opioids as use soars

Codeine-related deaths doubled in a decade

opioid

All opioid medicines in the UK are to carry prominent warnings on their labels highlighting the risk of addiction.

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced the measures yesterday in response to an increase of more than 60% in prescriptions for opioid painkillers in the last decade in England and Wales.

People needed protection "from the darker side to painkillers", he said in a statement yesterday, and referencing the epidemic of opioid addiction that claims thousands of lives every year in the US.

UK health experts welcomed the move, saying opioids can cause life-altering and sometimes fatal addictions.

Opioids, such as morphine or fentanylarehighly effective for managing severe pain but can also be highly addictive, and the marketing of new opioid products in the US since the1990s has seen use of the drugs – and abuse – skyrocket.

Prescriptions in England and Wales issued for opioids have risen from around £14m 2008 to £23m last year.

The DSHC warned that even less potent over the counter medicines, such as codeine-based painkillers, can also cause addiction.

From 2008 to 2018, the number of codeine-related deaths in England and Wales more than doubled to more than 150, it said.

In Scotland, codeine-related deaths hit 43 in 2016, but then fell back to 27 in 2017, according to the National Records of Scotland.

Matt Hancock

Health secretary Matt Hancock

Mr Hancock said: "I have been incredibly concerned by the recent increase in people addicted to opioid drugs.

"Painkillers were a major breakthrough in modern medicine and are hugely important to help people manage pain alongside their busy lives but they must be treated with caution.

"We know that too much of any painkiller can damage your health, and some opioids are highly addictive and can ruin lives like an illegal drug.

"Things are not as bad here as in America, but we must act now to protect people from the darker side to painkillers."

As the opioid crisis has escalated in the US, one pharma manufacturer accused of aggressively marketing its products – Purdue Pharma and OxyContin – is now being pursued in the courts for its part in the problem.

Endo, Teva and Abbott are among other companies also accused of exaggerating the benefits of their products and playing down safety concerns.

The new plans will see UK medicines regulator the MHRA given the power to insist that opioids carry warnings, following recommendations from the UK’s Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) opioid expert working group.

Doctors’ association the BMA welcomed the plans, and repeated its calls for a dedicated national helpline and more specialist support services for people who find themselves dependent on the painkillers.

Public Health England is currently undertaking a review into prescription medication addiction, which is due for publication later this year.

The addiction problem has also created a market for treatments to help patients withdraw from opioid products.

Camurus gained EU approval for its weekly and monthly Buvidal (prolonged release buprenorphine) for the treatment of opioid dependence in November, the first approval of a long-acting treatment for opioid dependence in Europe.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

29th April 2019

From: Healthcare

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