In UK, Opioids Will Carry Addiction Warning

By Kelly Burch 04/30/19

"Things are not as bad here as in America, but we must act now to protect people from the darker side of painkillers."

new UK opioid warnings
Getting ahead of addiction. Tero Vesalainen |

Prescription opioids in the United Kingdom will carry a prominent warning about the risk of addiction following new recommendations from an opioid policy group.

“I have been incredibly concerned by the recent increase in people addicted to opioid drugs,” health secretary Matt Hancock said in announcing the change, according to The Guardian.

He continued, “Painkillers were a major breakthrough in modern medicine and are hugely important to help people manage pain alongside their busy lives – but they must be treated with caution. We know that too much of any painkiller can damage your health, and some opioids are highly addictive and can ruin lives like an illegal drug.”

The policy decision is based on a recommendation from the United Kingdom’s Commission on Human Medicines, a group that makes recommendations in regards to opioids. The group recommended that the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency require manufacturers to label opioids with the warning. 

“This is an important first step to help minimize the risks of addiction associated with opioid medicines, while supporting patients to get the right information at the right time to support their care,” said Dr. June Rain, director of the agency.

In the UK, the prescription rates for opioids have risen 60 percent in ten years. The labeling effort is a way to get ahead of opioid abuse, Hancock said.

“Things are not as bad here as in America, but we must act now to protect people from the darker side of painkillers,” he said. “We need to place a greater focus on making sure that these medicines are used appropriately and for pain management alone, and make sure people are fully aware of the risks.”

England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, said the warnings are an important way for patients to learn about the dangers of opioid pills.

“We know that long-term use of painkillers can lead to life-altering and sometimes fatal addictions – so I am delighted to see measures put in place to raise awareness of the risks of codeine and prescribed drugs,” she said. “It is vital that anyone who is prescribed strong painkillers takes them only as long as they are suffering from serious pain. As soon as the pain starts to alleviate, the drugs have done their job, and it is important to switch to over-the-counter medications which do not carry the same risk of addiction.”

In the United States, U.S. senators introduced legislation last fall that would require opioids to be labelled with a warning about their addictive nature. 

“The path from one bottle of pills for patients who have had their wisdom teeth removed or experienced lower back pain to addiction needs as many roadblocks as possible, and a warning label could help save lives,” said Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who sponsored the bill. “In the same way we put warning labels on cigarettes for being addictive and causing death, we need labels to caution patients about the dangers of prescription opioids. It is important that everyone who receives an opioid prescription understand the potential risks, and a sticker on an opioid pill bottle is a consistent reminder.”

In the U.S., opioids have been required since 2016 to carry a black-box warning about the risk of abuse, addiction and death.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.