On Wednesday, 4 March 2020, the Drug and Alcohol Health Integration Team (HIT) brought together service providers, service users, researchers and commissioners to discuss how to address prescription opioid dependence in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG).
While these drugs are highly effective for some people, for others they can be ineffective and often cause harm. The complexity of finding the right solutions for people, and addressing the increase in prescription opioid dependence requires collaboration, research ideas and responding to patients' experiences.
The event tried to meet this challenge by hearing about national policy recommendations, local research and learning about a personal perspective of painkiller addiction.
Dr Kyla Thomas chaired the proceedings, starting with an overview of the Public Health England report on the issue. In conversation with Dr Thomas, Cathryn Kemp gave an open and honest account of her painkiller addiction. She inspired the audience with how she has used her experiences to advocate for greater support for people through the Painkillers Addiction Information Network charity and found a new focus in life.
Helen Wilkinson, Principal Medicines Optimisation Pharmacist (South Gloucestershire Locality) gave local evidence of the nature of the issue, noting that while BNSSG benchmarks well on prescription of medicines which can become addictive, there are improvements to be found in how people are supported.
Dr Thomas gave insight into a successful South Gloucestershire opioid and pain review pilot. This two-year pilot service aimed at supporting long-term users of opioid painkillers to manage their pain in a GP setting. On average, service users improved on all health, wellbeing and quality of life outcome scales, often reducing the amount of their opioid dose. This, along with findings that the model worked for health professionals and staff involved, indicated that this type of service model would need to be considered.
Attendees also had the opportunity to develop ideas for how to try and address the issue locally, responding to the themes from the Public Health England report.
The HIT will now work with the West of England Academic Health Science Network and other organisations in the region to explore how the ideas from the day can be taken forward to improve care in this complex area.