Is the UK facing a public health crisis?

The answer is yes, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which has declared the UK’s opioid “epidemic” a public health crisis.

Following its new report, addiction treatment experts at UKAT are calling for GPs to offer patients in need of pain management alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, yoga, a change in diet, exercise or non-opioid pain relief BEFORE prescribing addictive opiates.

The OECD says governments should also improve treatment, care and support for people misusing opioids and that overdose deaths continue to rise, fuelled by an increase in prescription and over-prescription of opioids for pain management and the illicit drugs trade.

In England and Wales, opioid related deaths have risen by more than a third between 2011 and 2016, placing the UK 6th out of the 25 developed countries analysed by the OECD for the highest opioid death rate.

“The opioid epidemic has hit the most vulnerable hardest,” said Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff.

“Governments need to take decisive action to stop the tragic loss of life and address the terrible social, emotional and economic costs of addiction with better treatment and health policy solutions. But the most effective policy remains prevention.”

UKAT is again calling on Government to take real, immediate action through the implementation of three preventative healthcare protocols.

“The OECD echo what we have been saying for some time now – that this country is in the grips of an opioid crisis, fuelled by the over-prescribing of opioids,” says Eytan Alexander, CEO of UKAT.

“Instead of taking learnings from what happened in the US, we’ve continued on the path to destruction and now, our Government need to take their head out of the sand and apply focus and action with immediate effect.

“Patients requiring pain management should be offered alternative pain therapies first; acupuncture, yoga, a change in diet, exercise for example, or non-opioid pain relief. If an opiate is prescribed, patients should be monitored closely and should not be repeatedly prescribed these addictive drugs for 5, 10, 15 plus years.

“There should be an automated IT-based process to red-flag when someone is over-using. These three changes will go a long way to preventing future generations being hooked on prescription opioids.”

UKAT says it has seen a 33% rise in the number of patients being treated for opioid prescription drug addiction in the last two years – more than half of which are female.

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Lynda Hamilton Parker is a Scottish PR expert and independent publisher

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