A quarter of British adults are being prescribed potentially addictive drugs, with half still addictive to them a year later, a review has found.
The Public Health England (PHE) report shows women are more than 50% more likely to be taking such pills, with rates rising with age.
In England overall, almost 12 million adults a year are being prescribed drugs on which they may become dependent.
These include 7.3 million people taking antidepressants, 5.6 million on opioid pain medications, and 3.9 million taking drugs such as benzodiazepines, Z drugs and gabapentinoids used to treat anxiety and insomnia.
Often, patients were taking more than one type of treatment, with more than half a million people on a cocktail of opioids and antidepressants, the Telegraph reports.
In around half of cases, those prescribed such drugs had been on them for at least 12 months. Up to a third of patients had been on them for at least three years.
Rosanna O’ Connor, PHE director of alcohol, drugs, tobacco and justice, said that while the scale and nature of opioid prescribing does not reflect the so-called crisis in North America, the NHS needs to take action now to protect patients.
The review says patients struggling with anxiety, insomnia, pain and depression should be offered alternatives to medication. These could include talking therapies or “social prescribing” of activities such as exercise or joining a choir.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said GPs don’t want to prescribe medication long-term unless it is essential and most patients don’t want to be taking medication long-term, but there will always be some patients for whom medication is the only thing that helps with distressing conditions such as chronic pain, or depression and anxiety.
“Whilst the vast majority of prescriptions will be appropriate, if we are to reverse the prescribing trends outlined in this report, GPs need better access for our patients to alternative therapies in the community,” she added.