Nearly half the population takes prescription drugs

Half of women and 43% of men in England are now regularly taking prescription drugs- according to the Health Survey for England.

Nearly half the population takes prescription drugsThe report by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) showed an average of 18.7 prescriptions per person in England in 2013 with the annual cost to the NHS was in excess of £15 billion.

All the figures exclude contraceptives and smoking cessation products.

Nearly a third of prescriptions were for cardiovascular disease with more than 65 million prescriptions for tackling high blood pressure, heart failure or cholesterol levels.

Simvastatin – which lowers cholesterol – was the single most prescribed item with 40 million prescriptions.

Dr Jennifer Mindell, one of the report’s authors at University College London, said: “This is the first nationally-representative study to report on the use of prescribed medicines taken by people in the community, not just those within the healthcare system.”

“That half of men over 65 are taking cholesterol-lowering medicines reflects the high risk of cardiovascular disease in this group.

“Stopping smoking, being a healthy weight, eating more vegetables and fruit, and being physically active reduce people’s risk of these diseases, for people who want to avoid taking medicines.”

This study focuses on the drugs patients say they are taking rather than the number of prescriptions written by a GP as up to half of such prescriptions are either not taken or not taken as recommended.

But figures for community prescribing – which include GPs and dentists, but not hospitals – show:

  • In Wales there were 74 million prescriptions in 2013.
  • In Scotland there were 99 million prescriptions in the financial year 2013-14.
  • In Northern Ireland there were 35 million prescription in 2010.

Analyses of similar data sets for England shows community prescribing, including contraceptives, increased from 650 million in 2003 to more than 1,000 million in 2013.

Antidepressants were taken by more than one in 10 women – double the figure for men.

The drugs were most commonly taken by middle-aged women and those from deprived areas – 17% of the poorest women took antidepressants compared with 7% of the richest.

Dr Sarah Jackson, at University College London, commented: “It’s well known that rates of depression are much higher among women than men, so I am not surprised to see that antidepressant use follows the same pattern in this study.

“People with depression are less likely to be in regular employment, and people who are unemployed or in low paid jobs are more likely to have depression.”

Overweight and obese people were more likely to need prescription drugs. More than half of severely obese people in England reported taking at least one prescribed medicine and a third took at least three.

Obesity is often associated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint pain and depression. Lifestyle changes are always recommended in the first instance, but medicines can help to address the symptoms and this study shows that medicine use increases steadily with body mass index.

Money woes linked to rise in depression

Economic problems may be fuelling a rise in depression in England, new research suggests.
Money woes linked to rise in depressionPrescriptions for anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac rose by more than 40% over the past four years, data obtained by the BBC shows.

GPs and charities said they were being contacted increasingly by people struggling with debt and job worries.

They said financial woe could often act as a “trigger”, but added other factors may also be playing a role in the rise.

The rise has happened at a time when the government has been increasing access to talking therapies, which should in theory curb the demand for anti-depressants.

In the last year alone referrals for talking therapies rose four-fold to nearly 600,000, Department of Health figures showed.

Dr Clare Gerada, head of the Royal College of GPs, said some of the rise in prescribing was also likely to be due to increased awareness about the condition and doctors getting better at diagnosis.

But she added: “Of course, in times of economic problems we would expect mental health problems to worsen – and GPs are seeing more people coming in with debts racking up, or who have lost their job and are cancelling their holidays.

“They feel guilty that they can’t provide for their family and these things can often act as a trigger for depression.”

Mental health charity Sane also said it had seen more people contacting its e-mail and phone advice lines with money worries.

Its chief executive, Marjorie Wallace, said: “It is impossible to say for sure that economic problems are leading to a rise in depression. But we are certainly hearing more from people who are worried where the next meal is coming from, job security and cuts in benefits – many who are getting in touch with us for the first time.

“It is a toxic combination, especially for those who already have darker thoughts and other problems.”

Emer O’Neill, chief executive of the charity Depression Alliance UK, said: “There is an increase in the number of people suffering from depression certainly, and the economic downturn has had an impact on that.

“But I think what’s happened is that a lot of the stigma has lifted on depression,” she told BBC Breakfast.

“It’s OK to say you have depression now – and people in general are getting much better information about what it is and they are coming forward and talking to GPs more about it.”

The figures, obtained from NHS Prescription Services under the Freedom of Information Act, cover anti-depressant prescribing from 2006 to 2010, during which time the country had to cope with the banking crisis, recession and the start of the spending cuts.

They showed the number of prescriptions for selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, the most commonly prescribed group of anti-depressants, rose by 43% to nearly 23 million a year.

The data also showed increases in other types of anti-depressants, including drugs such as Duloxetine which tends to be used for more serious cases.

As well as increasing demand for help, the rise could also be related to patients staying on the drugs for longer.

Care services minister Paul Burstow said: “The last recession has left many people facing tough times. If people do experience mental health problems, the NHS is well placed to help.

“We’re boosting funding for talking therapies by £400m over the next four years. This will ensure that modern, evidence-based therapies are available to all who need them, whether their depression or anxiety are caused by economic worries or anything else.”


Prescription charges postcode lottery extended

From today (April 1st) England is now the only UK country where some NHS patients still pay for prescription charges.
Prescription charges postcode lottery extended Scotland has today joined Northern Ireland and Wales in scrapping fees for prescriptions.

About half a million people in Scotland are expected to benefit from the change, which has been brought in by the SNP government.

It comes on the same day as prescription charges per item rise in England by 20p to £7.40.

Prescription charges were first introduced in 1952 – just four years after the NHS was set up – in order to prevent the “frivolous use” of the health service.

The fees were abolished in Wales on April 1, 2007 and Northern Ireland followed in 2010.

The BMA has campaigned against the charges.

“The bureaucracy needed to administer prescription charges is cumbersome, many of the exemptions are confusing and unfair. Patients with disabling long term conditions still have to pay them, despite a recent report recommending they be phased out,” he added.

The BMA accepts that these are financially difficult times, said Dr Meldrum but, he added: “this is a tax on the sick that contributes only a modest amount to the NHS budget and does not offset the unfair disadvantage of asking the ill to pay for their medicine.”

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Prescription drugs- millions “lending” pills to friends

Ill people are risking their lives by taking drugs such as heart tablets and painkillers that were prescribed for friends or family.Prescription drugs- millions "lending" pills to friendsMore than a million people a year are using medications intended for someone else without seeking advice from their GP, new research reveals.

Professor Steve Field, the leader of Britain’s family doctors, urged those who share medicines to stop before someone died as a result.

“The sharing of drugs in this way is inherently dangerous because neither the patient who was first prescribed the medication nor the person now taking them will understand the drug or its side effects, or its possible interaction with other drugs you may be taking,” said Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners. “Those taking them are putting themselves at risk of harm or even death.”

Field described as “very worrying” the results of a survey by Lloyds Pharmacy, which runs 1,650 chemists’ shops across the UK, into people’s handling of drugs. In all, 14% of the 2,043 adults questioned by pollsters ICM said they had given prescription medicines to other people in the last five years. That would equate to 6.3m adults over the period.

They said they had shared drugs they no longer needed on an average of almost six occasions, which would equate to about 37 million doses of prescription drugs.

Women are more likely to do it (16%) than men (10%), ICM found, as are older people and those on lower incomes, which may suggest that the cost of dispensing a prescription – £7.20 in England – is part of the explanation. One in four households contains medication which is no longer being used.

Painkillers were the drugs most commonly passed on: 66% of those who had shared medication had given those to others. The other drugs included antibiotics (11%), antidepressants (4%) and oral contraceptives (3%), though some people said they had let others use unwanted medicines used to help control heart conditions and cholesterol-lowering statins, which are taken by 4 million Britons.

“The people who are taking these ‘spare’ drugs might be at risk because, for example, they might have an allergy to a constituent of them, or the medication might have unintended side-effects,” said Field. “Prescriptions are given out on trust between the GP and the patient. Drugs should never be shared or passed on to people they weren’t intended for. Patients should stop doing this.

“Patients quite often say they have borrowed painkillers from friends, either to save money, or because they want to try something stronger, or because they don’t want to bother their GP or chemist. This is potentially harmful,” said Field.

“If someone borrows very strong painkillers they can make them very dopey or confused, especially if they are old, so driving a car or using machinery at work could become highly risky, for example.”

Lloyds Pharmacy voiced concern at patients passing on medications in “the mistaken and dangerous belief that they are doing someone a favour”. Andy Murdock, its pharmacy relations and governance director, said: “Doctors prescribe particular drugs to suit the individual needs and circumstances of the patient. If you cross the wrong drug with the wrong person, the results could be awful, even fatal. What’s more, it’s likely that many of the drugs which are passed on are out of date, and that presents its own dangers.”

He added: “You can understand the thought process: the drug has worked well for the patient, they have a friend who seems to be displaying similar symptoms and they have some pills to spare. It seems like a harmless and kind act to throw over a bottle and say, ‘try one of these’. But they could be allergic to the active ingredient, or it may be contra-indicated with other medication they are taking. And of course the ‘diagnosis’ may well have been wrong in the first place.”