Opioid use has fallen in County Durham and Sunderland, campaigners claim

Health & NHS

Opioid use has fallen in County Durham and Sunderland, campaigners claim

Campaigners behind an initiative to lower patients' use of painkillers have claimed opioid prescriptions have fallen in two counties in the North East of England. 

Organisers of Painkillers Don't Exist said the number of high-strength opioids prescribed fell by 24 per cent in Durham and 30 per cent in Sunderland in the 12 months up to August this year.

The initiative raises awareness of the potential risks of painkillers and supports GPs and pharmacists to help patients understand the effects of their long-term use through leaflets, posters, emails, newsletters and social media.

The risks of prescription pain medication include dependency and addiction, personality changes, nausea, drowsiness, mood swings and becoming withdrawn.

Ewan Maule, the head of medicines optimisation at Sunderland clinical commissioning group, said more needs to be done to support patients taking opioids and other analgesics over a long period who could be suffering side-effects.

Pain is a complex issue and living with daily pain can be debilitating. We used to think increasing pain medication to find the right level would allow people to mask their pain, but that’s not the case. We now have a much better understanding of how the body reacts to pain and painkillers over time,” he said.

Dr Ian Davidson, the medical director at County Durham CCG, said three months was “a good rule of thumb when it comes to recognising acute over persistent pain.”

At this point, and often earlier, opioid pain medication simply does not achieve sufficient pain relief. They stop doing their job, but they continue to cause damaging and often dangerous side-effects,” he said.

However, Dr Davidson warned that patients should not stop taking strong medication immediately but be helped to withdraw gradually with the support of a healthcare professional.

Our GPs will not stop prescribing but will work with patients to find a solution that allows them to focus on how to live and function as effectively as possible,” he commented. 

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