HIGHLY addictive painkillers were prescribed to tens of thousands of patients last year.

New figures from Public Health England found that 21,102 adults in the Swindon CCG area received at least one prescription for opioid painkillers.

Almost half of the patients prescribed these drugs had been taking them for a year or more.

A GP from Phoenix Surgery at Dunwich Drive, Pete Swinyard said: “There are lots of people who are in pain, the difficulty of it is that there are few painkillers that work well. We have little to offer people and I think it’s difficult when people are in a lot of pain."

The figures excluded those who were prescribed these painkillers for cancer pain.

But it was unable to put a figure on the number of those prescribed the drugs that had become addicted.

Chairwoman for the Royal College of GPs Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “This study indicates the severe lack of alternatives to drug therapies for many conditions, and where effective alternatives are known and exist, inadequate and unequal access to them across the country.

“GPs don’t want to prescribe medication long term unless it is essential, but there will always be some patients for whom medication is the only thing that helps with distressing conditions such as chronic pain, or depression and anxiety.”

PHE found that 30,711 people in Swindon were prescribed anti-depressants between 2017 and 2018 which is 18 per cent of the population.

Medication used to treat epilepsy, nerve pain and anxiety called Gabapentinoids were prescribed to three per cent of adults.

And two per cent of adults were prescribed sleeping pills.

A spokesperson for the Swindon CCG said: “Although this data shows a high number of people in our town taking this type of medicine, the percentage of Swindon residents receiving a prescription for opioid-based drugs is actually below the national average.

“However, in spite of this and the fact that such medication can be highly effective for many patients, particularly those with long-term depression, the NHS is now moving away from prescribing opioids in the first instance and instead encouraging people to make use of more community-based treatments.

“Swindon’s community navigator programme – which sees patients partnered with a coach who can dedicate extended periods of time to helping them live well – has flourished since its launch in 2015 and, with many now using the scheme to overcome conditions such as depression and anxiety, it’s hoped its growing reputation as a successful alternative will make the programme an attractive option to new patients seeking help and support.”