‘Profound disappointment’ as government rules out proposals for national prescription drug addiction helpline

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The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will not act on recommendations to set up a helpline to support patients struggling with prescription drug addiction, The Pharmaceutical Journal has learned.

This follows the failure of a spending review bid for the helpline submitted to Her Majesty’s Treasury in September 2021, meeting minutes released via an access request revealed. information (FoI).

In 2019, Public Health England (PHE) – which has now been replaced by the UK Health Security Agency and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities – published a review of the evidence on addiction and withdrawal associated with certain prescribed medications.

It included a recommendation that the DHSC should consider introducing a “time-limited national helpline and associated website” to provide expert advice and support to patients.

The report says the service should provide patients with a combination of support and guidance in the form of drug information, advice on withdrawal and withdrawal symptoms, non-drug alternatives and details of services. local support.

However, the minutes of a meeting of the PHE Prescription Drug Review Oversight Group held in April 2022, obtained by The Pharmaceutical Journal via the FoI request, reveal that due to the failed spending review bid, the DHSC “would not be taking [the helpline] forward”.

Further information, in the form of an update to the March 2022 PHE Review recommendations from NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I), viewed by The Pharmaceutical Journalsaid DHSC policy officials would work with NHSE&I and the watchdog group to seek “alternative means” to provide the level of support called for by this recommendation.

Luke Montagu, an officer with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prescription Drug Dependence (APPGPDD), which has advocated for the helpline for many years, said the news was met with “deep disappointment”.

“That has been our priority area for the past few years.”

“[During] the first conversation we had with Duncan Selbie [former chief executive of Public Health England] that led to the review, the presentation that we gave him that persuaded him to do this whole review was called ‘the helpline case’ – that’s where it all started and we have provided a wealth of evidence to support this, we have even more now, and so it is deeply frustrating that out of all the recommendations coming out of this review, the helpline seems to be the one that has was thrown into the water.

Montagu said that as a result, patients and people suffering from prescription drug addiction – many of whom are in crisis – will continue to have nowhere to turn.

“Some of them commit suicide – there are often suicides because of this,” he added.

“[This is] the only recommendation we knew was going to be the quickest response because a helpline can be national immediately in a way that all of these other things take months and years to filter through, and that’s also incredibly profitable, we have evidence from helplines that it [costs] cents per capita.

The spending review bid submitted by the DHSC was for £1.9 million, according to the APPG, which Montagu described as a “small sum”.

“The moral imperative of the health service is to support people who have been harmed by taking drugs prescribed by their doctors; there could be no higher priority than spending a very small amount of money to help support these people – it’s a scandal that this hasn’t happened.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has been another important voice in calls for a national helpline to support people suffering from prescription drug addiction since 2016. David Strain, chair of the BMA’s scientific council, said that it was “incredibly disappointing” to hear that the government would not act on the recommendation.

“Prescription drug addiction is a major public health concern, and the BMA has repeatedly explained why a national helpline is needed, along with a complementary website offering support and advice to carers and members. family,” he said.

“There are helplines run by small charities and support groups in the UK, but they only cover a small part of the country and report significant demand.”

Strain said the BMA had also called for dedicated referral services for people struggling with prescription drug addiction, updated guidance on managing withdrawal and providing alternatives to the need to prescribe first venue.

“Seeking help with prescription drug addiction is an important step, and there should be something in place so people get the support they need, when they need it.

“Not even having access to a phone number is simply not enough, and this missed opportunity to support this first step could prevent an individual from achieving withdrawal, which could put additional pressure on the NHS at a stage. ulterior.

“The government must urgently review this decision and ensure that people struggling with prescription drug addiction are not forgotten.

The Pharmaceutical Journal approached the DHSC for comment and a spokesperson said: ‘During spending reviews, we have to make tough decisions to ensure we are having the greatest impact on patient health with the funding available.

“The NHS is working to implement further recommendations in Public Health England’s 2019 review of prescribed medicines, and we have developed a framework to support integrated care advice on the important but complex issue of addiction. prescribed medications.”

  • This article was updated on July 18, 2022 to include a comment from the Department of Health and Social Care

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