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Reducing usage in the ‘Painkiller Capital’ of the UK

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Reducing usage in the ‘Painkiller Capital’ Reducing usage in the ‘Painkiller Capital’ of the UK

Painkillers Don’t Exist is a campaign by NHS Sunderland CCG to tackle the growing problem of painkiller addiction. The city has been dubbed the ‘Painkiller Capital’ of the UK, and the CCG aims to face the issue head on by raising awareness with the campaign and working with GPs and pharmacists to provide a range of physical and digital support tools to increase their confidence in suggesting alternative long-term pain management plans.

It was a brave move, but a necessary one if we are to drive behaviour change and make a real difference. As patients become increasingly aware of the dangers associated with long-term opioid dependency it means GPs are able to initiate difficult conversations, with increased likelihood of a successful outcome, i.e. working together to identify alternative methods of pain management while reducing opioid intake.

If patients are to experience positive outcomes, it is essential they are an active participant in those decisions. But managing expectations is essential. There is no quick fix to persistent pain – a term preferred over chronic pain, which implies it is incurable. Many patients might have been taking pain medication for several years, so it is unrealistic to expect the need for pain medication to simply cease.

Our best results so far have been in reducing doses for people taking the really problematic high dose opioids, rather than necessarily getting people off them altogether. The journey with each individual patient may take months, so there needs to be support from commissioners.

The recent draft guidelines around painkiller prescriptions announced by NICE, go a long way to support GPs and nurse practitioners. Suggested guidelines such as these, alongside the CCGs position statement highlighting the difficulty in prescribing such powerful medication, means health professionals are not seen as the ‘baddies’. Instead, they partner with the patient to find a better, long-term pain management option.

It’s essential we change the narrative and educate people about how the body responds to long-term pain, and the best ways to help individuals take back control and learn to effectively manage that pain without the need for constant medication. As awareness and education develop, it means understanding the difference between acute and persistent pain will enable informed conversations between medical professionals and their patients.

NHS County Durham CCG joined the campaign at the beginning of the year and is hoping to emulate Sunderland’s success that has seen a drop of 30% in opioid painkiller prescriptions in just nine months. No longer the painkiller capital, it is now in the bottom quarter of prescribing CCGs in the UK.No quick fix, but the cure is working.

Ewan Maule, Head of Medicines Optimisation, Sunderland CCG

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Has anyone ever thought why the northeast of England would have reason to be the highest user of pain masking prescriptions. Here are a few reasons from the top of my head!, we have an ageing population who as young women and men all worked in heavy industry shipbuilding, iron production industry, coal mining industry ,etc etc. All of which put the joints ,muscles and tendons under extreme stress.( I.e wear them out!). We also live in an area of the country that is both cold and damp! Much more so than southern areas! These cold condition are ideal for arthritic problems to occur in old worn out joints. Thus the need for some form of pain masking prescriptions?!!!. Like codeine and the like..I think the practice of stopping the use of these medications on an ever ageing population is causing a lot of pain and suffering. I wonder if anyone is monitoring the suicide rate in the elderly since these measures have been put in place. Because in my opinion these measures have left at least 30 percent of potential patients left in pain with no alternative medication.
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I am one of the people who have had my pain masking prescription codeine abruptly stopped. I disagree with the majority of your findings .I now find myself in pain without any form of relief. And no way of accessing relief .there seems to be a brick wall being put up!
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