16 January, 2013

Medical Bodies Unite to Combat Addiction to Medicines

Addiction to Medicines Consensus Statement

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) today publish a signed consensus statement aimed at reducing patient addiction to medicines such as tranquilisers and painkillers.

Supported by professional groups, specialist service providers and voluntary bodies representing 17 organisations, it cautions against long-term prescribing of medicines which carry a risk of addiction, except  in exceptional circumstances, and recommends rigorous and holistic regular reviews by practitioners with suitable expertise and understanding.

The statement calls on health and social care professionals across the statutory and voluntary sectors, in partnership with service users, to work together to reduce the risk of patient addiction to medicines and to support those who are dependent.

The statement acknowledges the issues and challenges faced by some patients who have dependency to prescribed or over the counter medications. It highlights the extreme caution that must be taken when reducing and stopping any medication to avoid serious risks of withdrawal and the need to enlist specialist help and advice to manage the physical and psychological aspects of the conditions these patients experience.

Professor Clare Gerada, Chair of the RCGP, said:

“Medicines such as tranquilisers do work for many patients but they need to  fully understand the risks associated with these drugs and be in a position to  make informed choices about their treatment and care plans, including  seeking agreement on the duration and review of any proposed course of medication or treatment.

“GPs are well placed to work in partnership with other agencies including  the voluntary and charitable sector many of whom offer advice and support including groups who can provide peer to peer support along with vital  patient education and information.

"This approach has been shown to be successful in helping patients to slowly adjust their treatment and achieve their recovery goals, including providing them with more access to alternatives such as psychological therapies and physical rehabilitation for pain relief.

“GPs and health professionals are already helping these patients to reduce their medication and understand all the options – but there is general agreement that we all need to do more. We are very grateful to have had the support of the NTA and the Royal College of Psychiatrists in drawing up this statement and hope it will have a big impact on patient care in what can be a difficult area.”

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Emma Whicher, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“Addiction psychiatrists are increasingly working with people who have developed dependence problems with prescribed or over the counter medication. Although these medications are beneficial to many people, awareness of the alternatives and risks is also important. This statement recognises the problem and supports people in their recovery. In addition treatment is available and effective for people who develop addiction to prescribed or over the counter medication.”

The RCGP has also developed factsheets for GPs and their teams which will be available shortly to be followed by an online learning module for GPs, to inform their own continuing professional development to ensure they are kept abreast of the latest treatments and developments in this area.

  • Royal College of Psychiatrists
  • Royal College of General Practitioners
  • The British Pain Society
  • The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse
  • Faculty of Pain Medicine of the Royal College of Anaesthetists
  • Royal College of Nursing
  • Royal Pharmaceutical Society
  • National Pharmacy Association
  • Battle Against Tranquillisers
  • Bridge Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Project
  • MIND in Camden Tranquilliser Project
  • Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education
  • Substance Misuse Management in General Practice
  • Codeine Free (www.Codienefree.info)
  • British Psychological Society
  • British Association of Social Workers
  • The College of Social Work

Further Information

RCGP Press office - 020 3188 7574/7575/7576
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659


The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 46,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.