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    Default Epidemic of addiction to prescription medicines

    Epidemic of addiction to prescription medicines

    A million patients are taking anti-depressants 'they don't really need' fuelling growing epidemic of addiction to prescription medicines

    • Patients are left on the drugs for months or years at a time
    • Coming off the medication can cause crippling withdrawal effects
    • The Mail backs calls for 24-hour helpline for those hooked on prescription drugs

    More than one million patients are needlessly taking sedatives and anti-depressants, a damning report reveals.

    They are left on the drugs for months or years at a time, fuelling a growing epidemic of addiction to prescription medicines.

    Research by the University of Roehampton suggests a quarter of a million in Britain have been left on tranquillisers such as Valium for more than six months, well over the recommended one-month limit.

    Another 800,000 have been taking anti-depressants for more than two years, having wrongly been prescribed them in the first place, the report says.

    Coming off these drugs can cause crippling withdrawal effects, such as hallucinations and depression.

    The Mail today backs calls led by charities and MPs for a 24-hour helpline for people innocently hooked on prescription drugs.

    Study leader Dr James Davies told the Mail’s Good Health section: ‘This is a scandal for which there can be no excuse.’ The UK has the fourth-most medicated population in Europe when it comes to anti-depressants. One in 11 people – five million across England alone – take anti-depressants every year.

    Dr Davies estimates half of patients have been on the drugs for more than two years.

    Of these, he calculates, a third have no clear clinical reason for doing so.

    He said: ‘In other words, about 800,000 people shouldn’t be on this medication. The longer you are on them the worse and more protracted the withdrawal will be.’ The dangers of benzodiazepine sedatives – a class of drugs including Valium – is even starker. Benzodiazepines are prescribed for anxiety or sleeplessness, but people who take them for more than six weeks face a 50 per cent chance of becoming addicted.

    And the only help they can receive is from addiction services frequented by Class A drug addicts.

    According to the latest Office for National Statistics report on drug poisoning, prescription drugs were linked with 1,313 deaths in 2015, more than the 1,201 deaths linked with abuse of heroin and morphine.

    Debbie Abrahams MP, a member of the all-party Parliamentary group for prescribed drug dependence, said: ‘There is a real and urgent need for more help to be made available.

    ‘Many patients report devastating persistent withdrawal and other negative effects.’

    Professor Jim McManus, director of public health for Hertfordshire County Council, said family doctors must take responsibility. ‘GPs’ prescribing behaviour has to change, including not over-treating people or giving them treatments that will actually do them harm,’ he said.

    But Stephen Buckley, of the mental health charity Mind, stressed that helping people stop taking drugs has to be a priority.

    He said: ‘We hear from lots of people who have been on anti-depressants for a long time and want to come off them.

    ‘We’d like to think GPs can help but that doesn’t always seem to be the case.’

    Professor Colin Drummond, chairman of the addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: ‘Prescription drug dependence is the Cinderella of addiction.

    ‘Treatment services have been directed by government to prioritise treatment for illegal drugs. People with prescription drug dependence are often turned away.’

    A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘We recognise that this is an emerging risk, which is why we are taking steps to better understand and tackle the harms caused by addiction to prescription drugs.’


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    Pharmaceutical giant 'plotted to destroy cancer drugs to drive prices up 4000%'

    Price rises for generic cancer drugs are estimated to cost the NHS in England around £380m a year

    Leaked internal emails appear to show employees at one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies calling for “celebration” over price hikes of cancer drugs, an investigation has revealed.

    Staff at Aspen Pharmacare reportedly plotted to destroy stocks of life-saving medicines during a price dispute with the Spanish health service in 2014.

    After purchasing five different cancer drugs from British firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the company tried to sell the medicines in Europe for up to 40 times their previous price, reported The Times.

    In 2013, the price of one pack of a chemotherapy drug called busulfan, used to treat leukaemia, rose from £5.20 to £65.22 in England and Wales, according to the newspaper.

    The other four drugs, including leukeran, also used by leukaemia patients, and melphalan, for skin and ovarian cancers, also became up to four times more expensive.

    Price rises for generic cancer drugs, such as those acquired by Aspen, cost the NHS in England around £380m a year for prescriptions dispensed outside hospitals, the European Cancer Congress has estimated.

    In a confidential email published by The Times, an Aspen employee appeared to write: “We’ve signed new reimbursement and price agreement successfully: price increases are basically on line with European target prices (Leukeran, a bit higher!)... Let’s celebrate!”

    When bargaining over drug prices in Spain, the pharmaceutical giant is said to have threatened to stop selling the cancer treatments unless the Health minister agreed to price rises of up to 4,000 per cent, reported Spanish daily El Confidencial Digital at the time.

    Now another leaked email appears to reveal that staff at Aspen discussed destroying their supplies of the drug in the row.

    The company, which is based in South Africa and has its European headquarters in Dublin, bought the five drugs from GSK in 2009 as part of a deal worth £273m.

    The price increases were made possible by a loophole that allows drug companies to change the price of medicines if they are no longer branded with the same name.

    The Department of Health has said it plans to cut generic drug costs after researchers said there has been a sharp increase in the price of cancer drugs in the last five years, leading to their use being restricted in the NHS.

    The loophole is designed to make drugs cheaper once ther patents have expired – but if drug companies have no competition, they are free to rise prices as well.

    It is “worrying” that several drug companies have increased the price of cancer treatment, a senior pharmacology research fellow at the University of Liverpool, told the BBC.

    A ruling by the Italian competition watchdog found Aspen had taken an “aggressive” approach to negotiations in the country.

    According to The Times’s investigation, the company said it would stop supplying Italy with the drugs in October 2013 if authorities did not agree to price rises of up to 2,100 per cent in three months.

    The Independent has contacted Aspen for comment.

    A Department of Health spokesperson said new laws were being introduced this year allowing the Government to “take action against excessive price rises on unbranded generic medicines.”

    “No pharmaceutical company should exploit the NHS,” they said, reported MailOnline.

    “We are working closely with the Competition and Markets Authority on unwarranted price rises of unbranded generic medicines, and where companies have breached competition law, we will seek damages and invest that money in the NHS."



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