NHS in Doncaster: the truth about painkillers, and how long-term use causes more damage

GPs in Doncaster are playing a vital role in stopping people from the damage of long-term painkiller useGPs in Doncaster are playing a vital role in stopping people from the damage of long-term painkiller use
GPs in Doncaster are playing a vital role in stopping people from the damage of long-term painkiller use
NHS bosses in Doncaster say long term pain killer use causes more damage – and they want to help patients stop

Health bosses in Doncaster are reminding patients about the dangers of taking painkillers for long periods of time which can lead to more physical and mental damage.

In a fresh drive to educate people on the long-term effects of taking strong painkillers, GPs have signed up to the second phase of a campaign to put the brakes on over-prescribing or unnecessary prescribing, and to encourage patients to seek safer alternatives for dealing with chronic pain.

Since the Time to Stop campaign was launched a year ago in Doncaster, 32 out of the borough’s 40 GP practices have significantly reduced their opioid prescribing following medication reviews with their patients.

Chioma Nnamdi, Medicines Optimisation Team Lead said: “In the first phase of Time to Stop we highlighted the dangers of taking opioids for long periods of time, emphasising that painkillers don’t kill the pain, they just mask it. People were encouraged to seek reviews with their GPs to look at the alternatives to getting rid of pain and cutting their dependency on the drugs.

“Having successfully cut down on the amount being prescribed across Doncaster over the past 12 months, we want to continue to educate people on the dangers of potential addiction and the damage that long-term use can have.”

Unsafe long-term

Opioids are strong medicines which work by lowering the number of pain signals your body sends to your brain. They also change how your brain responds to pain. They are effective for treating short-term acute pain such as after surgery or an injury accident, which usually lasts only a few days or weeks.

It was once thought that Opioids were useful for longer lasting chronic pain. However, clinicians now know that they don’t help long-term pain and more importantly are not safe to take for longer periods of time. Long term use can have many side-effects including dependency or early death.

After 3 to 6 months the original damage to the body for which the painkillers are prescribed has usually healed or settled as much as it is going to. The pain that continues to be felt is due to the body becoming oversensitive and giving off pain signals in an uncontrolled way. In this case it is called long-term or persistent pain.

It’s estimated that 5.6 million adults in England take prescribed painkillers such as codeine, morphine and tramadol. In Doncaster 18% of patients registered with a GP have been prescribed these medications.

Chioma Nnamdi added: “Patients who are taking opioids for longer than three months create the increased potential for dependence and overdose which can have devastating consequences.

“What makes opioid medications effective for treating pain can also make them dangerous. At lower doses, opioids may make you feel sleepy, but higher doses can slow your breathing and heart rate, which can lead to death. And the feelings of pleasure that result from taking an opioid can make you want to continue experiencing those feelings.”

Chronic pain

Although opioids can be very effective for controlling pain following surgery or for end-of-life pain, their effects are limited in long term chronic pains like arthritis and neuropathic pains. As well as being addictive and carrying a risk of overdose, opioids can also cause side effects such as immune suppression and respiratory depression which not many people realise.

Chioma added: “Often, people are not aware that there are other ways to help manage persistent pain and health professionals can offer support to cope better with it and achieve an improved quality of life. Measures such as a healthy diet, good sleep, gentle exercise and mindfulness can help calm down the body’s sensitivity to pain and improve general wellbeing.”

Support and advice

Patients are urged to contact their GP practice for support on how to help control pain using alternatives to strong prescription drugs. But they warn that you must seek their advice before reducing prescribed medicines yourself as it could be dangerous to reduce them suddenly or too quickly.