£500m wasted each year in England on dependency-forming medicines

CEP and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence is releasing new research which estimates that around half a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money is wasted each year in England on medicines that can cause dependency, including antidepressants, painkillers and sleeping pills.

This research follows the publication in 2019 of Public Health England’s Prescribed Medicines Review, which established that over a quarter of the adult population in England (26.3%) had been prescribed a dependency-forming medicine in the previous year.

In this new research, titled ‘The estimated costs incurred by the NHS in England due to the unnecessary prescribing of dependency-forming medications’, and published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, the authors define unnecessary prescribing as prescribing that either contravenes current NICE guidelines, or where no evidence exists for efficacy or continued clinical need, despite long-term use.   

The research team from the University of Roehampton, the University of Greenwich and University College London (UCL) included academics, psychologists, a psychiatrist and an economist, as well as clinicians and persons with lived experience.  The researchers reviewed data relating to the same drugs that were covered by the PHE 2019 review: antidepressants, opioids, gabapentinoids, benzodiazepines and Z-drugs.

The new research estimates that, over the period April 2015 to March 2018, up to 21.3% of the costs of prescriptions of antidepressants, up to 72% of benzodiazepines, up to 76% of z-drugs and up to 53% of opioids were unnecessary.  In addition, up to 54.4% of the costs of gabapentinoid prescriptions for pain and up to 12.6% of gabapentinoid prescriptions for psychiatric conditions were unnecessary.

This led to estimates of unnecessary annual prescription costs of up to £43.2m for benzodiazepines, up to £28.5m for Z-drugs, up to £288m for opioids, up to £158.5m for gabapentinoids and up to £65.1m for antidepressants. The estimated annual unnecessary costs of prescribing for all five classes of medicines ranged between £493m to £564m, when unnecessary consultation and dispensing costs were included.

In addition to identifying substantial unnecessary prescription waste (including costs incurred through unnecessary consultations and pharmacy dispensing), the research notes that the harms caused by dependency-forming drugs may also lead to other significant costs that the study did not estimate, including higher disability costs, lost tax revenues as well as rising workplace absenteeism and low-productivity costs.  

Danny Kruger MP, chair of All Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence commented: ‘This research reveals that £500m of public money is being wasted on unnecessary prescriptions that in many cases also cause harm, with lives sometimes devastated by the impact of dependency and withdrawal.  The economic argument is now clear – a fraction of these wasted costs should now be invested in a helpline and dedicated withdrawal support services, as recommended by Public Health England back in 2019.  This investment will benefit both public health and the public purse.’

Dr James Davies, co-lead author of the new research, commented: ‘The scale of the prescribing problem in England has been clear since the 2019 Public Health England report, which showed that one quarter of all adults are prescribed a dependency-forming drug each year with wide scale long-term use.  However, for the first time we now conclude around £500m each year in England alone is being wasted on these drugs.  Yet – unlike illicit drug and alcohol services – there is currently almost no government-funded support to help patients to withdraw from these drugs safely, which is needed in order to reduce patient harms and prescription waste.’

Dr Ruth Cooper, co-lead author of the new research, commented: ‘Uncovering such high estimates of potential waste during a period of intense financial pressure on the NHS is concerning. Our mental health services are at breaking point. Psychoactive medications such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines are too often used as the default and only treatment, with poor investment in non-drug alternatives for mental health problems. To help reduce waste, we must engage in careful deprescribing programmes, freeing up resources for more investment in psycho-social alternatives of proven efficacy.’

Professor Joanna Moncrieff, one of the article’s authors, commented: ‘We need to address the massive levels of unnecessary prescribing that have led to this shocking waste of NHS resources. The evidence suggests that most people derive no benefit from taking these drugs on a long-term basis, and may suffer From protracted and severe withdrawal reactions. We need a cultural shift in our approach to helping people deal with pain, anxiety and depression, so that it is no longer centred on the use of medication.’   

7 Responses to £500m wasted each year in England on dependency-forming medicines

  1. Orli 19/10/2021 at 11:14 am #

    There is a BIG PROBLEM now, following this, where are the professionals that can help to reduce the harming drugs to the patients, victims safely without provoking further harm?
    In first place why Psychiatry has been allowed to do so much harm? They know and knew what they are doing.
    Is this going to be an excuse to increase further other BARBARIC treatment like ECT?

    Be careful how this is use!

    • Ruth Smith 19/10/2021 at 12:37 pm #

      I agree that the use of these drugs is extremely harmful to many people and, in my own family the experience has been life diminishing for them. One relative has been prescribed many of these drugs over a two year period, with no positive effect. Her latest hospitalisation due to extreme suicidal ideation resulted in the psychiatrist offering her lithium or ECT. She did not trust another drug such as lithium, so she chose ECT as she was desperate for some help and felt she could not be discharged in the state of mind she was in. Nothing else was on offer it seems throughout the period of her severe depression – apart from drugs or ECT. We need a new paradigm to help people suffering from such distress and I do not believe in a QUICK FIX which seems to be the order of the day within mental health services.

  2. Orli 19/10/2021 at 12:00 pm #

    Give people a decent life, let them be able to participate free in society, basic needs should have already been covered in this time and era, cultivate respect and wellbeing from school, stop abusing children at school by not allowing them to grow, stop forcing families not to have family time, stop destroying us, this is a message for our politicians, then no depression, no anxiety that cannot be helped, etc..

    The root of every problem lyes on inept politicians that live in another world and put first their personal needs before humans.

    The root of the problem is in the corruption of our own people that can be buy by money and have little consideration for other human lives, they are in the same situation that the politicians even if they are workers following wrong mandates.

    Life is beautiful and although perfection is far from possible, we need utopias to reach a further state in human race, where souls can growth and money is a secondary or third need…
    Wake up friend, do not support what can harm your neighbors because you have to put bread on the table, because the next one is you!
    The abuse on the named “mental ill” people by forced treatment could have never happened in this scale if “our friends” did not collaborate.
    The same about so many innocent lives and souls deaths in all the glove many should have never occurred!

    • Orli 19/10/2021 at 1:27 pm #

      Hello, I am very sorry to hear about your daughter.
      The only reason why ECT is used is that there is now a big market on the internet offering succulent economical benefits for those who support it. This technology is business… there are no intentions to help anyone :(. ECT creates brain damage.

      Please bear in mind that depression and even psychosis is a way that our brains cope with issues that we may not even understand. Most of the time very clever minds are in this situation.

      Although nowadays differential diagnosis is not existent anymore.
      The fact that no psychiatric treatment should go ahead without exploring if the situation may be the response to a physical problem is not a reality anymore.

      Therefore victims are most of the time misdiagnosed.
      Once treated with antipsychotics or other drugs on that line it is very difficult for the “doctors” physicians to explore physical ailments because the “patients” are then in the hands of “psychiatrist” that cannot differentiate a non-convulsive seizure from a “negative” symptom or furthermore, a foggy brain due to allergy from a “delusion”…

      Once entering psychiatry the psychiatrist and the nurses will invent a record on your relative based on their subjective views, adapted to the needs for ” symptoms” to be suffering to allow them to legally prescribe.

      Not all patients are treated the same, it depends very much on which level of society you are in, that is why they need a history of the family.

      My advice look for doctors like Dr Peter Breggin, check his Facebook psychiatrist in the US, Dr Bob Johnson in the UK (although he is retired maybe he can help you).
      There is an international community that is trying to treat ” mental illness,”
      with no psychiatric drugs…
      A person may suffer from depression for a variety of reasons, problems with absorption of main nutrients due to allergies to cereals, yeast and others..missing vitamin D3 especially in the UK, hypersensitivity to EM, electromagnetic fields, etc…sometimes is a matter of try and error…

      Is important that the person is always accompanied 24hours a day but mental health units are not the place, on the contrary.
      I am not publishing links as I do not think is permitted, but I will be happy to share with you whatever I know if we can find where to share.
      Nothing wrong to start having 2000 to 4000 vitamin D3 a day, vitamin C1000, B complex with no minerals or other elements. Slow-release is good.
      Ensure enough liquids and toilet regular.
      The right nutrition plays an important role in our mental and physical health and simply walking even 15 minutes a day twice makes a difference.
      It is very important to check for allergies in food and the environment, including a possible response to electrosmog…
      Take care….go far from the “normal psychiatrist “.
      To the best, they are suffering from “mass delusion” for more than 50 years treating patients that never recover! But be careful they are very well supported and they can take the loved ones from you legally…be cautious when you decide to take other options. Is not their business to know. Best of luck G-d bless you.
      Note: there are always exceptions like Dr Peter Breggin has been treating patients without psychotic drugs for more than 40 years with success…
      These are my experiences observed on others, family, friends and members of society . This has happened and has been happening in the western world for many years!

  3. Nuala Sheehan 19/10/2021 at 4:43 pm #

    This is important and welcome research evidence. However, once again, so-called antipsychotic drugs are not included in the study although these drugs are being overused and are causing much harm. The evidence to support this continues to be ignored by many prescribers who have most likely been trained to believe, wrongly, that these drugs are helpful and that it is necessary to prescribe them long term. This view has been discredited and it is now clear that people who are not maintained on these drugs long term have the best chances of recovery. These drugs are harmful and they create chronic problems rather than alleviating problems.

    • Orli 19/10/2021 at 5:59 pm #

      Yes, I would like to add that psychiatrist are aware that the iatrogenics side effects of psychiatric drugs are among many other “psychosis”, “mental problems” neurological injuries, destruction of our own synapses, base of who we are as individuals…

      Disconnects the frontal brain with the other lobuls, psychiatric treatment is a well known chemical lobotomy…

      Destroy the capacity of creation and the abstract aspects of human beings, as it is love and to believe in our creator.

      Mental problems as define in the actual psychiatric are not real, they have been labeling altered state of mind on order to treat people legally, and forcefully. You cannot treat a person by law if you cannot make a diagnosis.
      There is no doubt that today’s main psychiatry is a lye to the society, an abuse to the health system by using our money to destroy ourselves.
      The status quo will break sooner that they expect and many psychiatrist will seat in benches before a jury soon or later.
      It has not occurred yet because the victims are not in enough numbers to wake up society, and because instead of promoting knowledge to everyone or to the most people possible in society, only a few are permitted to deep into sciences adding the excuse that only experts have the right on deciding what other humans should take in their bodies.. and there is too much distortion.. money and stable jobs had been used to go ahead with this big betrayal!
      As you can see I am very upset with how society has been abuse…
      We are scare to come up because we know the consequences may imply even to loose our lives.

      When the last drop of water fills the glass there is not way to stop flowing…. There is lots of evidence of how harmful are the psychiatric drugs, some human beings have decided to play G_d , we will see what happens to the end…

      Is not only psychiatric drugs, is the long list of lies and wrong doing that the actual psychiatric system entails, even physicians are scare of psychiatrist….they destroy patients and families…

      Any one that wants verified research on this Google Dr Peter Breggin, US a psychiatrist now they have taken down his youtube videos because he has aswell found evidence of what is behind the so call pandemia and has published together with other very honest individuals that are risking their lives and their works to safe lives.. (there are always exceptions but to be an exception you do not prescribe psychiatric drug, and they never explain to the patients or families the horrible side effects)

      Dr Bob Johnson retired psychiatrist from UK is another source of information, here in CEPUK there is a lot of information as well in this regard..

      There are options but there is the need of people to be trained, and implies time infrastructure and dedication by real medical professionals that wants the best for all of us!

    • Michael Freeman 22/10/2021 at 11:33 am #

      I’d also like to know why neuroleptic “antipsychotic” drugs appear to have been left out (eg. Olanzapine/Zyprexa). Are they bracketed under one of the other drugs groups ? If they have been excluded then why is this ? Cheers.

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