NHS releases new report on dependency forming medicines

NHS Business Services Authority has released its new report ‘Dependency Forming Medicines - England 2015/16 to 2021/22’ today.

The report focuses on four classes of medicines including Opioid pain medicine, Gabapentinoids, Benzodiazepines and ‘Z’ drugs, with some analysis including Antidepressants.

Key findings of the report show that:

In 2021/22, there were 67.7 million dependency forming medicines prescribed in England for a cost of £405 million. This was a decrease in items and cost from 2015/16 where 67.7 million dependency forming medication items were prescribed in England for a cost of £779 million.

Opioid drugs were the most prescribed dependency forming medications in England in 2021/22 with 39.6 million items at a cost of £307 million. The total cost of opioid drugs has decreased by 26.7% since 2015/16 from £419 million.

There were 7.10 million identified patients that were prescribed dependency forming medications in England in 2021/22. This was a 1.16% increase from 7.02 million identified patients in 2020/21, and an 11.8% decrease from 8.05 million in 2015/16.

The most common group to receive prescribing for dependency forming medications in 2021/22 was female patients aged 55 to 59 with 406,000 identified patients. The next most common groups were female patients aged 70 to 74 and female patients aged 60 to 64.

The most deprived areas in England had the highest number of identified patients who were being prescribed dependency forming medication in 2021/22, with one and a half times as many patients receiving prescribing in the most deprived areas of the country compared to the least deprived.

This report is the first in a new series by the NHSBSA. It has been developed in response to Public Health England’s (PHE) Dependence and withdrawal associated with some prescribed medicines review, also known as the prescribed medicines review (PMR), particularly its recommendation that the availability and use of data on the prescribing of medicines that can cause dependence be increased.

To read the report go to: https://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/statistical-collections/dependency-forming-medicines-england 

Contact Information

Sahdia Hassen

Senior Media and Campaigns Officer

NHS Business Services Authority


Notes to editors

Prescription ‘items’ refer to individual drugs or inhalers etc. on a prescription form, however a ‘prescription form’ can include multiple medicines on it.

These statistics are based on the financial year and not on the calendar year as some other sources of data may be.

’Identified patients’ are those patients whose NHS numbers were available (this only excludes a small number), please see the introduction of the report for a full explanation.

These medicines are classified by their main usage. However, they can sometimes be prescribed for other reasons. For example, some antidepressants can be used to treat people suffering from chronic primary pain. We don’t capture this at NHSBSA during processing, and so can’t determine the reason that a prescription was issued. Due to this, these statistics may not give a completely accurate estimation of the population receiving treatment for a specific mental health condition. Drug therapy is just one way that mental health conditions can be treated. These statistics do not tell us how many patients access other forms of treatment, such as psychological therapy.