All opioid medicines in UK to carry prominent warnings

The UK Government has announced that all opioid medicines are to carry prominent warnings to inform people about their potentially addictive properties.

Opioids – such as morphine or fentanyl – are derived from opium and are prescribed to help people manage severe or chronic pain. While they can be highly effective, there is increasing evidence of overuse and misuse. Some opioids – such as codeine-based painkillers – are available at pharmacies over the counter: these are weaker but can also cause addiction if used excessively.

Announcing the plans, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “I have been incredibly concerned by the recent increase in people addicted to opioid drugs. 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.

Under the government’s plans the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will have the power to insist that opioids carry warnings, following recommendations from the UK’s Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) opioid expert working group.

Dr June Raine, director of the MHRA’s vigilance and risk management of medicines division, said: “This is an important first step to help minimise the risks of addiction associated with opioid medicines, while supporting patients to get the right information at the right time to support their care.”

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