GPs told not to prescribe painkillers for chronic aches

New warning over powerful painkillers: GPs are told not to prescribe pills for chronic aches with no known cause… and recommend exercise instead, latest guidelines say

  • Experts say drug treatments don’t provide a balance between benefits and risks
  • Research shows ‘little or no evidence’ painkillers make difference to life quality
  • New health guidelines say sufferers should be offered exercise programmes, psychological therapies, acceptance therapy and acupuncture instead of drugs

Millions of patients suffering chronic pain with no known cause should not be prescribed painkillers, say new health guidelines.

NHS watchdog Nice said they should instead be offered exercise programmes or therapies.

In a victory for a Daily Mail campaign, it said there is ‘little or no evidence’ that painkillers make a difference to sufferers’ quality of life, pain or psychological distress.

The NHS watchdog Nice says there is ‘little to no evidence’ that painkillers make a beneficial difference to pain sufferers’ lives and that their use do not outweigh the risks such as addiction

But drugs – including benzodiazepines like diazepam or opioids such as tramadol and codeine – ‘can cause harm, including possible addiction’.

Chronic pain, defined as lasting more than three months, typically involves diagnosis of a cause.

The guidelines focus on chronic primary pain, where doctors have been unable to find the cause, which is estimated to afflict between 1 and 6 per cent of the country – up to 3.3million people.

It suggests sufferers should be offered exercise programmes, psychological therapies, acceptance and commitment therapy and acupuncture.

Antidepressants can be considered, it added. But patients should not be started on commonly used drugs including paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, benzodiazepines or opioids, they say.

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at Nice, said the evidence suggests drug treatments other than antidepressants are unlikely to provide an adequate balance between benefits and risks.

The watchdog said sufferers should be offered exercise programmes, psychological therapies, acceptance and commitment therapy and acupuncture instead of prescription medication

He added: ‘People shouldn’t be worried that we’re asking them to simply stop taking their medicines without providing them with alternative, safer and more effective options.’

The Mail has been campaigning for greater recognition of the prescription drugs addiction crisis since 2017.

Lucy Ryan, a patient representative on the guideline committee, said: ‘I am pleased it has highlighted the potential risks of some of the drugs as I feel people are sometimes not made aware of these.’

Nick Kosky, consultant psychiatrist at Dorset NHS Foundation Trust, said GPs and specialists ‘find chronic pain very challenging to manage’.

He said: ‘This guideline under-lines the importance of appropriate assessment, careful drug choice, exercise programmes, psychological therapies, and consideration of acupuncture in improving the experience and outcomes of care for people with chronic pain.’

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