Campaign to tackle painkiller addiction

MEDICAL experts in the region are taking the lead on painkiller reduction, in a bid to tackle addiction and the damaging side effects some users suffer.

The clinical commissioning groups for Sunderland and County Durham have both reduced prescriptions of high dose opioid pain medication – side effects of which can include dependency, personality change, drowsiness and mood swings.

The move – which sees NHS Sunderland CCG cut their use by 34 per cent and NHS County Durham CCG’s down 17 per cent – comes ahead of NICE releasing new guidelines in January, 2021.

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Both bodies were already seriously concerned about high levels of opioid use and launched the campaign last year.

They are now stepping up the campaign to raise awareness of the dangers associated with long-term use of opioid pain medication, which is classed as more than three months.

The campaign aims to help individuals, their family and friends recognise if opioid painkillers like Codeine and Tramadol are a problem.

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Ewan Maule, head of medicines optimisation in Sunderland, said: “Side effects like dependence and addiction, personality change, drowsiness and mood swings are all indicators that individuals need to be aware of and we would urge people to discuss their approach to long term pain management with their GP surgery.

“We understand that pain management is not a one-size-fits all approach.

“Simply prescribing opioid painkillers to mask the symptom of pain is no longer the sole method used to treat long term, persistent pain.”

Medical professionals including GPs and pharmacists will get help to have difficult conversations with patients and advise how to reduce and stop painkiller use safely – which could include an holistic approach with physiotherapy, yoga and medication.

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Dr Rory MacKinnon, a GP partner at Bridge View Medical Group, in Southwick, said: “We now know that our bodies change the way they react to pain over time.

“Three months is a good rule of thumb, when it comes to recognising acute over persistent pain.

“At this point, and often earlier, opioid medication, simply does not achieve sufficient pain relief. The answer is rarely to simply increase the dose.

“We want to work together with our patients to effectively manage pain, with opioid pain medication restricted to when it will be effective.

“This is a complex, long standing and multifaceted problem and solutions to address opioid dependency must be complemented by development and funding of other evidence-based treatments and interventions.”

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The campaign features hard-hitting social media messages, posters and advice cards, roadside billboards, local stories and a new website at which has information and support.

Artist and mental health campaigner, Jax Higginson, was also commissioned to create a large piece of sand art on Roker beach to demonstrate that it’s not until you take a step back that you can really see the full picture of painkiller dependency.

Across the UK, more than 20 million people are thought to suffer from persistent pain and, according to Public Health England, an estimated 7.1 million adults take opioids or gabapentinoids.

In the six months up to September 2020, there were 83,716 prescriptions dispensed for opioid medication across Sunderland and County Durham – that is one opioid prescription for every ten people.

And 50 to 70-year-olds are the group most prescribed pain medication in County Durham and Sunderland.

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Anyone affected by opioid pain medication and interested in reducing their doses, is encouraged to discuss their long term pain management with a health professional like a nurse practitioner, GP or pharmacist or visit for further information.

The Northern Echo | Durham