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PHE: Pharmacists can help ‘spot signs’ of prescription drug dependence

PHE: Pharmacists might need “training” to help patients with addiction to medicines.
PHE: Pharmacists might need “training” to help patients with addiction to medicines.

Community pharmacists could spot and flag concerns with a patient’s GP if they suspect dependence on prescription medicines, a Public Health England (PHE) official has suggested.

Community pharmacists could help spot patients who are addicted to prescription medications, but might need “training” on signs to look for and respond to them, Steve Taylor said at a Westminster Health Forum policy event on prescribed medicines dependence last week (October 8).

Mr Taylor, who was responding to a question from C+D about the role of pharmacists in tackling overprescribing, agreed that pharmacy teams “are often the ones who see patients first-hand and can identify problems”.

However, it could  be a “sensitive matter” to broach with the patient’s GP, as the prescriber may think they are “doing the right thing”, added Mr Taylor, who is programme manager for health improvement – alcohol, drugs, tobacco and justice – at PHE.

A 2019 PHE review into dependence and withdrawal linked to certain prescription medicines also outlined recommendations for community pharmacists to develop their ability to "identify, assess and respond to” signs of drug dependence. The review encouraged pharmacists to inform themselves about the needs of patients who are dependent on certain drugs or in withdrawal.

Last week’s online event featured speakers and panelists from multiple bodies with expertise on prescription medicine dependence, including National Pharmacy Association policy manager Helga Mangion.

Ms Mangion said she would “like to put the case” that community pharmacy teams are “ideally placed to support patients, not only [with]  their dependence on prescribed medicines but also in their treatment and improving mental wellbeing”.

“Community pharmacists are also trained to offer targeted support, lifestyle advice and personal advice,” she added.

As well as providing direct support through one-to-one interaction with patients, pharmacy teams could also provide “indirect support through the development of clinical guidelines and deprescribing policy”, Ms Mangion argued.

Have you spotted a patient who has been struggling with prescription drug dependence?

How High?, Community pharmacist

Tell me again, what do these "clinical pharmacists" do in GP surgeries?


How High?, Community pharmacist


No wonder the Govt took Track and Trace off PHE if this is the level of their suggestions.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Are youb sure pharmacists are best placed to tackle this task. Also is this a free service as in do the DoH not have to pay pharmacists for the service ?

Getting Shorter, Community pharmacist

This one is properly funny. What do they think we've been doing for, like, ever???!

Dependence, overuse, inappropriate quantities... the very best you'll get is a handwritten amendment one month, then next script it's back to the same old.

Until there's some way for us to actually follow things through with the surgeries, this is just micturating into the breeze.

C A, Community pharmacist

"PHE: Pharmacists might need “training” on how to look for signs of addiction to help patients with addiction to medicines."

PHE might need to take a long walk off a short pier 

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

Give me the training & the money and we'll see how we get on. Until then, it's like Bob Dunkley says - you raise with the GP who says "It's all under control", despite the fact they issue "one-off top-up scripts" just about every week.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I do not believe it is particularly difficult right now for pharmacy staff to spot drug dependency. Unfortunately however, the issue lies with the next steps proceeding identification.

Bob Dunkley, Locum pharmacist

Good luck with that. Been there seen it bought the sweatshirt. After you've notified the GP - then what? The GP doesn't have a clue what to do next, should he stop Mrs Xs oxycodone, manage a taper or carry on as usual for a quiet life? The idea is a good one, and with a bit of thought can work. There is a scheme in Bradford that is doing just this.



JOHN HILL, Allocation & Distribution

Why don't the GP's use their prescribing sysyems to flag it up themselves,after all they have plenty of time as they are noticeable by their closed doors,as a point of note, over the years I have notified many GP's of such a problem,with mixed respones rangeing from thanks and they have done something about it to the more usual shrug of the shoulders and it has continued ad infinitum.

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

roflmao... need help spotting the signs!.... by the time I get to the hard to spot ones, the surgeries will be swamped... if they take any notice... and, of course, where is the money? 

It has just taken me well over 20 minutes to get thro to the "best" of my surgeries on the phone, and as an experiment I sent an email query last week.... still no reply.... how we are supposed to notify or work with them is beyond me.

C A, Community pharmacist

Get it set up on Pharmoutcomes, like the Flu, then at least there is an audit trail to tell the GP that there is a problem. If they choose not to do something about it, then it's on them. 

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