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Keele University awarded over £2m to investigate opioid overprescribing

A university has been given more than £2m to conduct research into opiod overprescribing in the NHS.

Keele University received a £2.4m grant from the state-funded body the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to explore the causes of painkiller overprescribing and train GP pharmacists to better help patients with long-term pain.

In December, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced the launch of a review looking at “problematic polypharmacy” in the NHS, which will be led by England’s chief pharmaceutical officer Keith Ridge.

The Keele University study aims to reduce “inappropriate” opioid prescribing and improve the quality of life for people suffering persistent pain caused by conditions such as osteoarthritis.

The researchers will also look for alternatives to opioid use, support patients to self-care and train practice-based pharmacists to better assist patients with long-term pain.

Study lead Dr Julie Ashworth said: “Patients with persistent pain often see no alternative to continuing opioids, even when they are no longer helpful or cause troublesome side-effects.

“In addition to reducing use of medicines that may be harming rather than helping patients, if successful, this research will ultimately also reduce NHS prescribing costs and free-up scarce resources to reinvest in more effective treatments.”

It is estimated that the use of morphine-like painkillers increased by a third between 1998 and 2016. People relying on opioids are more likely to have a poor quality of life and suffer bone fracture, addiction and overdoses than those who do not take the medicines, according to research.

The UK’s pharmacy minister Steve Brine said that intervening more efficiently at primary care level could “prevent the complications that arise from long-term opioid use, which improves the quality of care for patients and reduces the burden on the NHS in the long-term”.

He added: “This exciting research comes at a time when we are tackling overprescribing head on to improve the care of those with long-term conditions and to reduce prescribing costs across the whole NHS.”