Pills and bottle

NIHR awards £2.4 million to research to reduce overprescribing of opioids

Date: 15 January 2019

The NIHR has awarded £2.4 million to researchers at Keele University to investigate overprescribing of opioid painkillers in primary care and improve treatment of patients with persistent pain - without the use of long-term opioids.

The research will help people with persistent pain caused by a range of conditions, including osteoarthritis and back pain.

The use of opioid (morphine-like) painkillers, such as codeine and fentanyl, has dramatically increased in the UK over the past 20 years, rising by a third between 1998 and 2016.

People with persistent pain who take long-term opioids tend to have a worse quality of life than those who do not take opioids, and are more likely to suffer bone fractures, addiction and overdose, especially at high doses.

Most patients with persistent pain are managed by their GP, and whilst guidelines say that GPs should review people taking long-term opioids regularly, often this does not happen.

This new research programme is led by Keele University’s Professor Christian Mallen, Director of the Institute for Primary Care and Health Sciences and NIHR Research Professor in General Practice, and Dr Julie Ashworth, Senior Lecturer and Consultant in Pain Medicine.

The research programme, funded by NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research, will involve developing an intervention for clinical pharmacists to help patients with persistent pain reduce or stop taking opioids (where appropriate) and support them to self-manage their pain.

The research will test this intervention in approximately 1,000 patients to establish whether it leads to less opioid use, without making patients’ pain worse, and whether this results in better use of NHS resources compared to usual GP care.

Professor Mallen explains: “Prescriptions for opioid medication continue to dramatically rise, despite limited evidence supporting their use for many painful conditions. By proactively addressing this problem and making better use of the highly skilled primary healthcare team, I hope we can rapidly improve outcomes for patients who too often suffer in silence.”

MP Steve Brine, Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, said: “This exciting research comes at a time when we are tackling overprescribing head on to improve the care of those with long-term conditions and to reduce prescribing costs across the whole NHS.

“In understanding how we can better intervene at primary care level, we can prevent the complications that arise from long term opioid use, improve the quality of care for patients and reduce the burden on the NHS in the long-term.”

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  • Summary:
    The NIHR has awarded £2.4 million to researchers at Keele University to investigate overprescribing of opioid painkillers in primary care and improve treatment of patients with persistent pain - without the use of long-term opioids.
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