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NHS releases report on dependency forming medicines

NHS Business Service Authority's (NHSBSA) 'Dependency Forming Medicines - England 2015/16 to 2022/23' report shows that in 2022/23, the cost of prescribed dependency forming medicines was £380 million. This was a 51% decrease from 2015/16 when the cost was £780 million.

The report includes data on four categories of medicines including Opioid pain medicine, Gabapentinoids (antiepileptic agents commonly used to treat neuropathic pain), Benzodiazepines (sedative medication) and ‘Z’ drugs (commonly used as sleeping aids). Some analysis also includes antidepressants. Full definitions are available in section 3 of the publication.

The key findings of the report also show that:

In 2022/23, there were 67 million items for dependency forming medicines prescribed in England, a 1% decrease from 2015/16.

Opioid drugs were the most prescribed dependency forming medicines in England in 2022/23 with 39 million items at a cost of £280 million. The total cost of opioid drugs has decreased by 33% since 2015/16 from £420 million.

There were 7.1 million identified patients that were prescribed dependency forming medicines in England in 2022/23. This was a 12% decrease from 8.1 million identified patients in 2015/16.

The most common group to receive prescribing for dependency forming medicines in 2022/23 was female patients aged 55 to 59 with 410,000 identified patients.

Areas of greater deprivation had the highest number of identified patients who were being prescribed dependency forming medication in 2022/23, with 56% more patients receiving prescribing in the most deprived areas of the country compared to the least deprived.

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

Contact Information

Stuart Hand

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.