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24 million opioid prescriptions were issued last year

From paracetamol to co-codamol, 24 million opioid prescriptions were given out in the UK in 2016, which is double that of just 10 years ago.

Europe’s overall overdose deaths also rose for the third consecutive year in 2015 to 8,441; 81 per cent of which were related to opioids. 

Now new research from the largest study of its kind reveals patients taking painkillers alongside medication for heart disease, stroke or diabetes are 95 per cent more likely to become obese as the sedative drugs make people inactive and affect their metabolism.

Earlier this year TV presenter Ant McPartlin from the duo Ant & Dec opened up about his addiction to prescription painkillers after injuring his knee two years ago. 

Now sober, the I’m A Celebrity presenter was told by his doctor he could have died after consuming copious amounts of opioid-based painkillers washed down with alcohol.

Opioids, which often lead to addicts experimenting with illegal substances such as heroin, have caused more deaths by accidental overdose than any other drug in US history, leading to President Trump declaring the epidemic a national public health emergency in October.  

From paracetamol to co-codamol, 24 million opioid prescriptions were given out in 2016


According to the study, the following opioid drugs cause obesity, a ‘very high risk’ waist circumference and elevated blood pressure in people taking drugs for heart disease, stroke or diabetes:

  • Morphine sulphate tablets
  • Tramadol
  • Paracetomol + Tramadol
  • Oramorph 
  • Co-codamol
  • Codydramol (paracetamol + dihydrocodeine) 
  • Fentanyl patch
  • Buprenorphine 

How the new research was carried out  

Researchers from the University of Newcastle analysed 133,401 people taking drugs for diabetes, heart disease or stroke.

Of which, 7,423 participants were also prescribed medication, including opioids, for chronic pain for conditions such as migraines and lower-back discomfort.

The participants were asked about their smoking status, alcohol intake, activity levels and average hours of sleep a night. 

Painkillers increase the risk of obesity by up to 95% 

Results reveal people taking painkillers alongside drugs for heart disease, diabetes and stroke are 95 per cent more likely to be obese.


As well as Ant McPartlin, the following celebrities have battled painkiller addiction:

In 1993 the King of Pop Michael Jackson cancelled his worldwide ‘Dangerous’ tour after developing a painkiller addiction from a 1984 burn injury. 

When Winona Ryder was arrested for shoplifting in 2001, police found eight different painkillers in her purse, which she said make you ‘out of your head’.

In 2002, Friends star Matthew Perry admitted to taking the painkiller Vicodin to help him overcome his hangovers from his alcohol addiction. 

Nicole Richie also suffered from Vicodin addiction and was under the influence when she was arrested for driving the wrong way down a Californian freeway in 2006. The Simple Life star claimed she used it for menstrual cramps.

Rapper Eminem reportedly used to drink a bottle of rum mixed with Vicodin and ecstasy but kicked the habit after the birth of his daughter Hailie Jade in 1995.

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who is also a recovering alcoholic, became addicted to painkillers after taking them for a cosmetic procedure. 

They are also 82 per cent more likely to have a ‘very high risk’ waist circumference and 63 per cent more likely to develop high blood pressure.

This may be due to painkillers causing sedation, which reduces people’s desire to exercise.

Such drugs have also been linked to insomnia and disturbed nighttime breathing, which increase the risk of obesity. 

The painkillers pregabalin, gabapentin and amitrptyline are known to affect metabolism, which can cause weight gain.

Lead author Dr Sophie Cassidy, said: ‘We already know that opiates are dependency-forming but this study also found patients taking opiates have the worst health. Obesity rates are much higher and the patients reported sleeping poorly.

‘These results add further weight to calls for these chronic pain medications to be prescribed for shorter periods.’

The findings were published in the journal PLOS One. 

Rise of synthetic opioids 

Drug traffickers, particularly from China, are producing more potent, dangerous variants of opioids to hook new users. 

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said there is a growing threat from synthetic opioids.

EMCDDA’s scientific director Paul Griffiths said: ‘We have seen in the last 18 months the rapid emergence of new highly potent synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyl derivatives.

‘Their potency means they pose a significant risk to those that consume them or are accidentally exposed to them.’