Table 1. UK studies of opioid prescribing in primary care
StudyStudy periodLocationStudy populationFindings
NTA (2011)1 1991–2009EnglandAll prescriptionsFive-fold increase in prescribing opioids.Regional variations in prescribing.
Ruscitto et al (2015)46 1995–2010TaysidePrimary careIncrease in opioid prescribing.Larger increase in “strong”a opioid prescribing.Associated factors: polypharmacy, social deprivation.
Curtis et al (2019)2 1998–2018EnglandPrimary careIncreases in prescribing between 1998 and 2016.Increase in ME amount prescribed much greater.Prescriptions decreased after 2016.Associated factor: geographical variation.
Zin et al (2014)13 2000–2010EnglandPrimary care“Huge” increase in “strong”a opioid prescribing.Majority (88%) for non-cancer pain.
Cartagena Farias et al (2017)35 2000–2015EnglandPrimary careNon-cancer painIncreasing numbers of people prescribed opioids.Prescribing for longer periods.Associated factors: age, social deprivation, regional variation.
Bedson et al (2016)48 2002–2013EnglandPrimary careMusculoskeletal painLong-term prescribing increased to 2009; slight decrease after 2011.Increased prescribing of long-acting opioids.
Green et al (2012)49 2004-2007(?)b North StaffordshirePrimary careJoint painAged >50Factors associated with increased rates of prescription.Factors associated with “strong”a opioid use.
Foy et al (2016)33 2005–2012West YorkshirePrimary careNon-cancer painPrescribing of weaker opioids doubled.Six-fold increase in “stronger”a opioid prescribing.Patient and prescriber factors associated with stepping up to “stronger” opioids.
Davies et al (2019)11 2005–2015WalesPrimary careNon-cancer painLarge increase in prescribing of “strong”a opioids.Associated factors: age, social deprivation, anxiety or depression diagnosis.
Jani et al (2020)50 2006–2017EnglandPrimary careIncreased prescribing of opioids: codeine, morphine, tramadol, oxycodone.Initiated high doses tend to be maintained.Associated factors: social deprivation, regional variation, polypharmacy.
Mordecai et al (2018)34 2010–2014EnglandPrimary careIncrease in amount (in ME) prescribed.Associated factors: social deprivation; regional variation.
Ponton & Sawyer (2018)36 2012(?)b South East EnglandPrimary carePatients prescribed high dosesIdentified patients prescribed doses ≥120 mg ME of “strong”a opioids as candidates for specialist input.
Ashaye et al (2018)51 2011–2012London and MidlandsPrimary careMusculoskeletal painLong-term prescribing common.Possible overprescribing in more than a quarter of patients receiving “strong”a opioids.
Public Health England (2019)32 2015–2018EnglandPrimary carePrescriptions and proportion of population prescribed opioids declining from historically high rates.High rates of long-term prescribing.Associated factor: social deprivation, polypharmacy.
Bastable & Rann (2019)37 2018East EnglandPrimary carePatients prescribed high dosesIdentified patients prescribed opioid doses ≥120 mg ME.Co-prescribing of Z-drugs, benzodiazepines, and gabapentinoids.
  • ME = Morphine equivalent..

  • a Drugs categorised as “strong” vary between studies, but always include morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

  • b This is estimated from the published text, which does not indicate the data collection period.