There should be a national database of patients taking large amounts of opioid painkillers, researchers have said.
The call comes after a new study found that opioid prescribing is on the rise across England.
The latest study, published in the British Journal Of General Practice, found that long-term opioid prescribing is increasing “despite poor efficacy for non-cancer pain, potential harm, and incompatibility with best practice”.
It comes after health officials announced a review into the “growing problem” of prescription drug addiction.
The review will cover benzodiazepines and z-drugs, pregabalin and gabapentin, opioid pain medicines and antidepressants, health officials said.
The latest study, led by University College Hospital in London, examined data on opioid prescriptions in GP practices across England from August 2010 to February 2014.
The authors found an overall increase in opioid prescribing, specifically of buprenorphine, codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and tramadol, which was the most prescribed opioid in England.
Two opioids, methadone and dihydrocodeine, showed a decrease during the study period.
Researchers also found geographical variation, almost all of the low prescribing areas were in the south of England and nine of the 10 highest prescribing areas were in the north.
They called for a national database of patients taking large amounts of opioid, saying such patients should be known by specialist services.
Such a move would “hopefully help avoid further escalations of doses as well as attempt to help patients with specialist opioid reduction programmes”, they added.
The authors conclude: “Long-term opioid prescribing is increasing despite poor efficacy for non-cancer pain, potential harm, and incompatibility with best practice.
“Questions of equality of care arise from higher prescription rates in the north of England and in areas of greater social deprivation.
“A national registry of patients with high opioid use would improve patient safety for this high-risk demographic, as well as provide more focused epidemiological data regarding patterns of prescribing.”
Steve Brine, Public Health Minister, said: “We know that prescription drug addiction is a growing concern in this country—which is exactly why we recently commissioned an independent review of the current situation in England.
“It is an issue that has reached epidemic proportions in the US—and we are determined to make sure this doesn’t happen here.
“Once we have a better understanding of the scale of the problem we will be looking at a range of policy options to tackle the issue.”