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Northerners more likely to be prescribed opioids for pain, study finds

There are more patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain in northern England than there are in the South, researchers have found.

A study in BMJ Open discovered a ‘pain divide’ between north and south England, with people in the North more likely to experience chronic pain than those in the South.

Using data from just over 5,700 respondents to an England-wide chronic pain survey conducted in 2011, the researchers found that 37% of people living in northern England have chronic pain, compared with 35% in the South.

Patients in northern England were also nearly a third more likely to experience ‘severely limiting’ pain and 37% more likely to experience ‘moderately limiting’ pain.

However, the researchers also noted that opioid use for the most severe pain had higher prevalence in the North, at 17%, compared to 10% in the South.

The researchers said that more needs to be done on a national level to curb opioid prescribing.

They said in the paper: ‘Our study shows that examination of the need for continued opioid prescribing should be considered in any strategies going forward to tackle the poorer health outcomes commonly reported in the north east of England, compared with the rest of the country.

‘Given the public health concerns associated with the long-term use of opioid analgesics—and their questionable activity in the management of chronic pain— more guidance is need to support prescribers in the management of long chronic pain, so the initiation of opioid can be avoided.’

This comes after Public Health England has been tasked with carrying out a major review of prescription drug addiction which includes opioid pain medicines as well as benzodiazepines, z-drugs, gabapentinoids and antidepressants.

BMJ Open; available online 12 September