Prescription drug addicts should have 24-hour helpline, doctors urge
A 24-hour helpline should be introduced for patients who are addicted to prescription drugs, the British Medical Association has said.
The organisation believes it could help tackle problems created when strong tranquillisers prescribed for short-term use, to treat issues such as anxiety and insomnia, are issued for longer periods.
Dr Andrew Green, the BMA's GP clinical and prescribing policy lead, described dependence on powerful prescription drugs as a "widespread problem" which sometimes involves patients who are upset at having been harmed by treatments which they hoped would help them.
He said services need to be "specifically designed" for this group of people as they may feel out of place if they are referred to existing services which are aimed at cocaine or methadone users.
He told BBC Breakfast: "The situation has been made worse because they have come to the NHS for help and they have found that the services are not available for them.
"We have even had some patients say they feel they are being blamed for the situation that they find themselves in."
He later told the BBC 5 Live Investigates programme: "Establishing a national helpline should be a top priority to provide better service to individuals with prescribed drug dependence."
In response to the BMA's calls, Rosanna O'Connor, director of alcohol, drugs and tobacco at Public Health England, said: "Addiction to prescribed and over the counter medicines is obviously a concern and it is essential that people only take these medicines in accordance with medical advice.
"If people feel that they may be dependent on either prescribed or over the counter medicines they should seek help, speaking to a GP is a good first step.
"Public Health England supports local authorities to develop tailored responses to existing and emerging drug misuse issues in their area and, in conjunction with the NHS, to address specific concerns about addiction to prescribed and over the counter medicines.
"It remains important that all health professionals make every contact count with patients and are alert to possible signs of misuse and dependence, including to prescribed drugs."
Benzodiazepines - taken for severe anxiety, insomnia and sometimes pain relief - are a particular concern.
Disturbed sleep, personality changes, blunted emotions and people feeling they are struggling to manage their lives are among the potential side-effects of the drugs.
There have been a number of celebrities who have battled with prescription drug addiction.
Actor Matthew Perry, most famous for his role as Chandler Bing in the sitcom Friends, has spoken out about his problems with addiction.
In an interview with ABC News he said: "Mostly it was drinking, and opiates. I think I was pretty good at hiding it but eventually people were aware."
Asked what stopped him, he said: "It was sort of fear of death I suppose, like I was getting very sick so I had to do something about it."
In 2007, Playboy model Anna Nicole Smile died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.
The 39-year-old overdosed on at least nine prescribed medications while struggling with various health problems in her last days.