The Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, has announced that all opioid medicines will have to carry cigarette-style deterrent labels warning that they can cause addiction. The move follows an investigation by the Sunday Times regarding the increase in use of opioid medications in the UK over the last decade.
“Things are not as bad here as in America” said Mr Hancock, “but we must act now to protect people from the darker side of painkillers. We need to place a greater focus on making sure that these medicines are used appropriately and for pain management alone, and make sure people are fully aware of the risks.”
His words were echoed by the chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, who said “We know that long-term use of painkillers can lead to life-altering and sometimes fatal addictions, so I am delighted to see measures put in place to raise awareness of the risks of codeine and prescribed drugs.
“It is vital that anyone who is prescribed strong painkillers takes them only as long as they are suffering from serious pain. As soon as the pain starts to alleviate, the drugs have done their job, and it is important to switch to over-the-counter medications which do not carry the same risk of addiction.”
Under the government’s plans the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will have the power to make warnings compulsory on all opioid medications. This follows a recommendation from the Opioid Expert Working Group of the UK’s Commission on Human Medicines.
The government’s announcement is the latest offensive in the UKs battle against opioid-misuse, mirroring the all out war against opioids raging currently in the US.
Last month, Libby Parfitt reported on the announcement that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is to create new guidelines for GPs on the prescribing of opioids. These guidelines are expected to be issued to GPs in 2021.
As Libby concluded, “I don’t know what the future will hold for chronic pain patients like me who are dependent on opioid painkillers to function. I hope that the UK will adopt a kinder and more humane approach than the US, but it’s just too soon to tell. I’ll be following this subject closely and keeping you informed.”
There is as yet no indication when deterrent labels will become a requirement, but a significant delay is not expected.