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Painkiller use frequency is best predictor of dependence

People think they 'need' painkillers

May 21st 2019

Tagged: Clinical Zone news

By Ailsa Colquhoun

The best predictor of painkiller dependence is not misuse or abuse of medication, but the frequency of its use, new research has revealed.

The research was conducted by University of Derby and included 1,283 people from several different countries who had pain and had used painkillers in the last month.

Among the findings, the study showed that almost half (49 per cent) of participants had pain for longer than a year, 69 per cent had a medically diagnosed pain condition and 66 per cent were taking prescribed analgesics.

In the UK, participants in the study were found to have taken painkillers 22 days in the last month on average; 44 per cent of UK participants overused painkillers (using them for pain, but for longer or at higher doses than recommended) at least sometimes, compared with 30 per cent in the USA and 53 per cent in Australia.

Some 9 per cent of UK participants used painkillers for reasons other than to relieve pain at least sometimes, compared to 5 per cent in the USA and 18 per cent in Australia.

Some of the biggest increases in painkiller user have been seen in oxycodone, co-codamol, tramadol, morphine and fentanyl.

Derby researcher Professor James Elander said: “We found that simple questions about how much people felt they ‘needed’ painkillers were the most important predictor of dependence.”

Recently, health secretary Matt Hancock has announced that all opioid medicines in the UK will carry prominent warnings on the labels saying they can cause addiction. Other new measures to reduce opioid dependence include: Nice prescribing guidance for GPs  and an MHRA review of risk minimisation measures including product labelling and packaging.

  • The Department of Health and Social Care has published ‘All Our Health’ misuse of illicit drugs and medicines guidance for health and care professionals.

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