ADDICTION experts have warned ‘worryingly high’ numbers of patients are being prescribed drugs such as opioid pain medications and anti-depressants and becoming ‘hooked’ on them.

More than 14,819 people in Blackburn with Darwen were prescribed anti-depressants in just a single month last year, it has been revealed, after Public Health England (PHE) released its first prescribed medicines review.

The data showed the number of people living in Blackburn with Darwen and the North West who have been prescribed five classes of drugs — anti-depressants, opioid pain medicines, gabapentinoids, benzodiazepines, and Z-drugs — in March 2018, as well as those who had been receiving medications for more than at least a year.

Thousands of people in the borough have been put on each of these drugs, including 9,406 taking opiates and 3,951 taking gabapentinoid neuropathic pain killers.

Across the North West, more than 1.4 million people were issued a prescription for one of these drug classifications.

Addiction treatment organisation UKAT said it is concerned that more than half of these patients — some 803,087 people — have been prescribed these ‘highly addictive’ drugs for at least 12 months, and some for even longer.

Nuno Albuquerque, UKAT group treatment lead, welcomed the review and hoped that it will serve as a ‘serious wake up call’, adding: “This report shows us that thousands of people living across the North West are crying out for help, and unfortunately, they’re being given plasters in the form of pills to solve their problems.

“Long-term use of these drugs, for the majority, will be ineffective because over time, the patient is likely to develop physical and psychological tolerance to the drug.”

But doctors said that medication was still important in tackling mental and physical illness.

Dr Mark Dziobon, Burnley GP, and medical director for East Lancashire CCG said the prescribing of anti-depressant and anxiety drug Anxiolyticcan shorten the duration of mental illness ‘significantly’ and is an option that is ‘readily available’ to GPs.

He said: “There are many causes of depression and anxiety and it can take time for people to understand and deal with these. Pennine Lancashire is an area with high levels of poverty, social deprivation and poor health.

“Not having a job, relationship difficulties, illness or trauma can also trigger depression or anxiety. Medication gives people much needed time and space to cope.”

Blackburn GP Paul Fourie, who runs Witton Medical Centre, added: “A lot of people who are reliant on medication are people who have chronic pain or depression and need them, and it’s difficult to get them off it.

“We do make patients aware that they’re no quick fix and of the risk of addiction.”