Trends in Opioid Prescribing

There has been a marked and progressive rise in prescribing of opioid drugs in the UK over the past decade and the trend to increased prescribing continues. The most recent data for 2013 show that 21.7 million prescriptions were issued (not including opioid substitution treatment for addiction) with a total cost of £289.8 million.

  • The largest number of prescriptions per patient is in the North East of England and lowest in London and the South East.
  • There was little change in the average opioid daily dose between 2000 and 2011, however there are now many more patients prescribed higher doses.
  • The increase in prescribing has been predominantly for the treatment of non-cancer pain
  • In other healthcare systems, increased opioid prescribing has been associated with lower socioeconomic status but other factors may influence prescribing too.
  • The increase in prescribing has been associated with increased costs to the NHS.

Further Reading

  • NHS Business Services Authority
  • Bedson, J., Belcher, J., Martino, O.I., Ndlovu, M., Rathod, T., Walters, K., Dunn, K.M. and Jordan, K.P. (2013). The effectiveness of national guidance in changing analgesic prescribing in primary care from 2002 to 2009: An observational database study. European Journal of Pain, 17: 434–443. doi: 10.1002/j.1532-2149.2012.00189.x
  • Ruscitto, A., Smith, B.H. and Guthrie, B. (2015). Changes in opioid and other analgesic use 1995–2010: Repeated cross-sectional analysis of dispensed prescribing for a large geographical population in Scotland. European Journal of Pain, 19: 59–66. doi: 10.1002/ejp.520
  • Zin, C.S., Chen, L.-C. and Knaggs, R.D. (2014). Changes in trends and pattern of strong opioid prescribing in primary care. European Journal of Pain, 18: 1343–1351. doi: 10.1002/j.1532-2149.2014.496.x