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Trial campaign to reduce opioids "is effective"

A campaign that urged GPs to “think twice” before putting a patient on opioid medicines is effective in reducing opioid prescribing in primary care, according to a major study.

Although the reduction in opioid prescriptions issued by individual GPs was small, when aggregated they had a large effect.

The campaign was trialled in West Yorkshire and the researchers say over a year, it resulted in 15,000 fewer patients being given opioids – and a net saving to the NHS of £700,000.

If it were replicated across the UK, the campaign could lead to 406,000 fewer patients taking opioid medications.

The study involved a “feedback” intervention that continued for a year, where GPs were given two-monthly updates on the number of people at their practice prescribed opioids.

Opioids are often given as painkillers, but the Royal College of Anaesthetists says there is little evidence they help with long-term chronic pain – although they work for acute pain and end-of-life care. 

In April, NICE issued guidance on supporting patients who experience chronic or persistent pain, which states that they should not be started on commonly used drugs, including opioids.

The number of prescriptions issued by GPs in England for opioids increased by 37% from 1998 to 2016, with the quantity of oral morphine doubling.

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