The CPRD GOLD primary care database (former GPRD) includes information about all prescriptions issued in primary care for a subset of approximately 8% of the United Kingdom population. This database has previously been used to study prescribing of anxiolytic, hypnotic and psychotropic medication, commonly referred to as tranquilisers.
It would be possible to use the database to estimate the number of patients in the UK with a long-term dependency on prescription tranquilisers. However, as dependence will not be systematically identified by general practitioners, expert clinician advice would also be required to develop a definition. This could be based on frequency of prescribing and medication strength but could also include clinical codes for medical conditions including indications for these products, drug dependency and substance abuse, if recorded.
This work would represent a research project and as such, a scientific protocol would need to be submitted to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s Independent Scientific Advisory Committee for assessment and possible approval.
Even with such an approach, the rate of drug dependency in the population could only be estimated, and in order to assess whether this estimate was a true representation of the actual rate of drug dependency in this population, a validation study would be encouraged.
The Department is looking into the feasibility of commissioning further research on patterns of long-term prescription of dependency-forming medicines, including analyses of relevant prescribing data.