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Prescriptions of drug linked to heroin addiction in US soars in England, CSJ warns

Prescriptions of a highly addictive drug which has been linked to tens of thousands of deaths in America have increased by more than a third in England in the last four years, new figures show.

The opioid painkiller oxycodone – dubbed ‘hillbilly heroin’ in the US – was prescribed more than a million times in England last year, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) said.

The drug sparked concern in America 10 years ago after experts said some users became addicted to it before switching to heroin because the latter is easier, and cheaper, to obtain.

Oxycodone, which goes under the trade name Oxycontin in the US, is a class A drug and is substantially stronger than morphine.

Describing the relationship between heroin and Oxycontin users in America, Vermont Governor Peter Shmulin said this year: “What started as an Oxycontin and prescription drug addiction problem in Vermont has now grown into a
full-blown heroin crisis.”

Oxycodone was initially prescribed for late stage cancer, but in recent years has been given for an increasing number of conditions.

Figures show the number of oxycodone prescriptions handed out in England rose by 39 per cent between 2010 and last year – from 788,607 to 1,093,083.

In Hull the number of prescription items rose by 132 per cent over the same period.

It comes just days after a report revealed that half of women and 43 per cent of men in England now regularly take prescription drugs.2

The CSJ said oxycodone does have legitimate medical use but insisted the dramatic rise in prescriptions should be examined.

Rupert Oldham-Reid, senior researcher at the CSJ, said: “These numbers show a dramatic rise in prescriptions of oxycodone – it is right that we ask why this is happening and what the effects may be.

“Oxycodone and other prescription drugs play an important medical role, but we have to make sure we don’t over-prescribe and risk facing the problems they now see in America.”

The CSJ is calling for prescription numbers per GP practice to be made readily available and for more frequent reviews of repeat prescriptions.

The latest figures regarding oxycodone prescriptions were obtained from the Department of Health, and are available here.
Read the CSJ’s latest addictions report, Ambitious for Recovery, here.

For media inquiries, please contact:
- Ross Reid, Centre for Social Justice – Mob: 07780 707322
Copies of the CSJ’s report into addiction policy, Ambitious for Recovery, are
available on its website ( or,
alternatively, by contacting one of the individuals above.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is an independent think tank established in 2004 to put social justice at the heart of British politics. In June last year, the CSJ was awarded UK Social Policy Think Tank of the Year 2013 at Prospect magazine’s Think Tank Awards.

In 2007 the CSJ published its landmark report, Breakthrough Britain. This publication, which set out 190 evidence-based policy recommendations to tackle poverty in Britain, transformed the social policy and political landscape and was awarded Publication of the Year by Prospect Magazine in 2008.

Since Breakthrough Britain the CSJ has published over 40 reports which have shaped government policy and influenced opposition parties. This has included the seminal paper Dynamic Benefits, which led the Coalition Government’s welfare reforms.
Further to this, the CSJ manages an Alliance of around 350 of the most effective grass roots, poverty-fighting organisations. The CSJ is able to draw upon the expertise and experience of 3 Alliance charities for research work and media inquiries. Journalists wishing to conduct grassroots research into social problems can be put in touch with front-line charity directors and staff.

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