Over the last 20 years GPs have increasingly prescribed opioid painkillers, such as tramadol, oxycodone, fentanyl and buprenorphine, for people with chronic non-cancer related pain. An opioid is a synthetic drug that resembles medicines developed from opium. Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than three months.
There is a lack of evidence showing that these painkillers can actually treat this type of pain effectively. More people are becoming addicted to opioid painkillers, and the number of deaths involving these medicines has risen.
Since 2010, the rate of users of drug services in South Gloucestershire mentioning use of prescription opioids has increased every year. In 2014 the rate was six times higher than the average seen in the whole south west.
The growing number of people becoming addicted to opioid painkillers is an important public health issue. It affects people of all ages and can have serious effects on individuals’ health, finances and relationships, their families and society as whole. However, patients who become dependent on prescription opioid painkillers do not want to be treated in the same specialist drug services as those taking illegal drugs. Guidance recommends that separate services, locations or sessions are provided for people who are dependent on prescription opioid painkillers.
The South Gloucestershire opioid analgesics dependency pilot project is the first service in the UK that focuses specifically on these patients. A dedicated care worker will work with patients and GPs to treat patients’ addiction and help GPs reduce prescription of these painkillers. The pilot was launched in two local GP practices in 2016 and will run for 18 months.
CLAHRC West will evaluate this pilot project, examining the health and quality of life of patients. We will also talk to patients and practitioners to find out their views of the service.
This evaluation will help to improve the pilot before it’s rolled out more widely.