Some drugs have a strong reputation for being harmful, i.e., cocaine, heroin and most other illegal substances. The dangers, especially relating to dependency and withdrawal, mean people know there are risks if they consume certain drugs. But, can similar problems exist when taking professionally prescribed medicines?

Public Health England launched a year-long review last year into the "growing problem" of prescription drug dependency. NHS data suggest one in every 11 patients in England is being prescribed medication that could be addictive, or difficult to come off, including sedatives, painkillers and antidepressants.

The review covered:

- Sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines and z-drugs (zolpidem and zopiclone).

- Painkillers called opioids, pregabalin and gabapentin (the latter two are also used to treat epilepsy).

- Antidepressants (some patients experience difficulties when trying to stop taking them).

Public Health Minister, Steve Brine, said: ‘We know this is a huge problem in other countries like the United States - and we must absolutely make sure it doesn't become one here. While we are world-leading in offering free treatment for addiction, we cannot be complacent.’

The review also considered why:

- Prescribing of addictive medicines increased 3% over five years.

- One patient in eleven (8.9%) is prescribed one of these medicines.

- Antidepressant prescriptions in England have more than doubled in 10 years.

- A survey also found that 7.6% of adults had taken a prescription-only painkiller not prescribed to them.

PHE will assess the scale of the problem, the harms caused by dependence and withdrawal, how they may be prevented and the best way to respond.

Many people benefit from medicines that treat problems like pain, anxiety and insomnia. But some of these medicines are highly addictive and result in dependence and withdrawal. It’s very important to speak to your GP if you feel you have a problem and what to stop taking the appropriate medicine(s).

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