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Dependency Forming Medicines – England – 2021/22

Published 8 September 2022


This publication aims to describe the prescribing of dependency forming medicines in a primary care setting in England that are dispensed in the community. This does not include data on medicines used in secondary care, prisons, or issued by a private prescriber.

This release is the first in a new publication series by the NHSBSA. This publication was developed in response to the Public Health England (PHE) dependence and withdrawal associated with some prescribed medicines review also known as the prescribed medicines review (PMR) (PDF: 2.9 MB), particularly its recommendation that the availability and use of data on the prescribing of medicines that can cause dependence be increased.

It's intended to produce a national view of prescribing of dependency forming medications for the use of policy makers, the general public and other users, and to be available to answer any high level questions in this area.

This release includes metrics on the volume and cost of prescribing of dependency forming medications. Various demographic breakdowns and breakdowns by Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) quintiles are also be included. Geographical breakdowns by Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) are included in the supporting summary tables.

This is an experimental Official Statistics release.

Key findings

  • In 2021/22, there were 67.7 million items for dependency forming medicines prescribed in England, a 0.13% decrease from 2015/16.
  • In 2021/22, the cost of dependency forming medicines prescribed in England was £405 million. This was a 48.0% decrease from 2015/16 where the cost was £779 million.
  • Opioid drugs were the most prescribed dependency forming medications in England in 2021/22 with 39.6 million items at a cost of £307 million. The total cost of opioid drugs has decreased by 26.7% since 2015/16 from £419 million.
  • There were 7.10 million identified patients that were prescribed dependency forming medications in England in 2021/22. This was a 1.16% increase from 7.02 million identified patients in 2020/21, and an 11.8% decrease from 8.05 million in 2015/16.
  • The most common group to receive prescribing for dependency forming medications in 2021/22 was female patients aged 55 to 59 with 406,000 identified patients. The next most common groups were female patients aged 70 to 74 and female patients 60 to 64.
  • Areas of greater deprivation had the highest number of identified patients who were being prescribed dependency forming medication in 2021/22, with one and a half times as many patients receiving prescribing in the most deprived areas of the country compared to the least deprived.

Resource list

Dependency Forming Medicines 2021/22 - Statistical Summary Narrative (HTML)

Costs and items summary tables (Excel: 189KB)

Patient demographics summary tables (Excel: 171KB)

Background information and methodology note (ODT: 249KB)

User engagement strategy (ODT: 229KB)

Pre-release access list (ODT: 218KB)


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Responsible statistician: Kirsty Gray