21 April 2016

NICE Issues New Guidelines for Safer Use of Prescription Drugs

Most people think of illegal drugs such as cocaine or heroin when they hear the words ‘drug addiction’. They assume that those affected by this illness have been taking illegal substances for recreational purposes. Some believe that these drug addicts are unemployed and homeless. It might never enter their head that drug addiction also refers to those who have become dependent on prescription medication prescribed by their GP.

Controlled drugs are prescribed for a number of reasons, including for chronic pain, anxiety disorder, depression, sleep disorders, and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Unfortunately, many people misuse these drugs by taking more than the prescribed dose, or by taking them more frequently than advised. Some individuals take controlled medication that has been prescribed for another person. Misuse of controlled drugs can lead to numerous problems including addiction, and the rising number of those affected has become a major cause for concern in recent times.

Safer Use

Because of the concerns regarding the use of controlled drugs, NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has issued new guidelines for the safer use of medications including methadone, morphine, and diazepam. Changes already implemented by the NHS have been taken into account. These include the ways in which GPs, hospitals, and pharmacies manage the drugs as well as the restrictions that have been placed on how they are prescribed. The NHS has also implemented changes to procedures in relation to repeat prescriptions.

NICE Guidelines

The new guidelines issued by NICE are intended to help healthcare professionals when it comes to treatment with controlled drugs. The guidelines will also be useful for those working in social care, the armed forces, the police, and prisons. The guidelines are as follows:

  • Those who are prescribing controlled drugs to patients should also provide advice on safe storage and disposal of the drugs. This could include locking the medication in cupboards or storage boxes if medication could become accessible to other people. It is also necessary for healthcare professionals to discuss how a chosen storage method could increase the risk of a drug-related accident.
  • Logs should be kept by health organisations that would include information on how controlled medications are supplied, administered, transferred, and disposed of.
  • Pharmacies must inform patients if only one part of their prescription is available for collection as well as provide information about when the remainder will be available and when it should be collected.
  • A patient should not be prescribed any controlled drug for more than thirty days. Healthcare professionals should prescribe sufficient amounts of the controlled drug to cover the needs of the patient for up to thirty days only. If it is necessary to prescribe more of the drug, then this should be fully documented in the patient’s record.

Extra Care

As medications such as methadone and morphine can cause serious harm if not managed correctly, they tend to be very strictly regulated. According to the chair of the guideline development group, Dr Tessa Lewis, “A great deal of work has been done recently to help ensure the safe use and management of controlled drugs at a local and national level. However, ongoing activity and vigilance is required to sustain the positive developments that have been achieved since the changes to the structure of the NHS took effect in 2012.”

She added that the guidelines produced by NICE were intended to support the changes brought in by changes to the NHS structure and to legislation. She said, “This guidance provides further clarity and good practice recommendations across most NHS settings and people’s own homes.”


  1. NICE

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