The United Kingdom will add prominent warnings on the labels of opioid medications in order to highlight the "darker side to painkillers."

The new regulation is a response to the steep increase in opioid prescription in Britain. From 14 million in 2003, the opioid prescription issued in England and Wales reached 23 million last year, more than 60 percent increase in the past decade.

Public health experts agree with the move, saying that opioids can cause often life-threatening addictions.

Opioid Crisis In The UK

"I have been incredibly concerned by the recent increase in people addicted to opioid drugs," said Matt Hancock, secretary of the Department of Health in the United Kingdom. "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."

He noted that the opioid crisis in the United Kingdom is not as bad as the situation in the United States where tens of thousands of people have died due to overdose. However, it is still a major problem.

The death toll related to codeine — an over-the-counter medication — has more than doubled in the past decade, reaching 150 in England and Wales. In Scotland, 27 people died in 2017 due to the painkiller. In Northern Ireland, 16 codeine-related deaths were recorded in 2017.

The Public Needs To Know The Dangers Of Opioids

The new regulation has received the support of Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England. She advised patients to stop taking opioid as soon as the pain subsides in order to avoid its long-term health effects.

"We know that long-term use of painkillers can lead to life-altering and sometimes fatal addictions, so I am delighted to see measures put in place to raise awareness of the risks of codeine and prescribed drugs," Davies stated. "It is vital that anyone who is prescribed strong painkillers takes them only as long as they are suffering from serious pain."

Norman Lamb, the former health minister, warned that the United Kingdom is at risk of "sleepwalking" into a situation that resembles the opioid crisis in the United States. He called for an overhaul of the current guidelines on opioid prescription.

Public Health England is on the process of investigating prescription medication addiction. It will release the review later this year.

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