The low number of prosecutions brought against doctors and pharmacists who assist in the diversion of prescription drugs in the UK is “worrying,” say MPs.

In a new report, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee also deplores the lack of progress made in the last year in the understanding or collection of data around the issue of dependence on prescription drugs. 

The MPs welcome recent announcements that the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs are shortly to carry out work examining dependence on prescription drugs, and they call for the geographical spread and the scale of the problem to be “definitively established.”

They also call on the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) to produce guidance for GPs who treat addiction to prescription drugs, and this should require all cases to be recorded on the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System in order to further clarify the prevalence of the problem, they say.

The Committee acknowledges the difficulties in collating information on the misuse and supply of prescription drugs for non-medical purposes because of the sensitivity of medical data. Nevertheless, it says, immediate steps must be taken to introduce a system whereby anonymous data can be collated to fully understand where the problem lies. 

When the MPs visited the US, as part of a previous inquiry, they were “very worried that significantly more doctors and healthcare practitioners were able to be prosecuted for the illegal supply of prescription drugs there than in the UK,” they say.

“We are concerned that, despite differences in medical care structures between the two countries, healthcare professionals in the UK are able to supply prescription drugs illegally without fear of prosecution.” 

The report calls for medical practices to start anonymous data collection of patients who are addicted to prescription drugs and how they are being supplied, and for the Medical Royal Colleges to establish a joint working group to examine whether local health teams are effectively communicating concerns around people who visit multiple practices to request specific drugs.

“There are currently 1.5 million people addicted to prescription drugs in the UK. The abuse of these types of substances is taking place in the shadows and its extent is still unquantified. Local GPs need to report their suspicions and collate information to illuminate this problem,” said the Committee’s chairman, Keith Vaz. 

“If we do not act, the catastrophic consequences of tomorrow can be seen in the US today,” warned Mr Vaz, who is Labour MP for Leicester East.