Staff Perceptions of Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drug Dependence Services in England: A Qualitative Study



Dependence to prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs represents an increasing public health and clinical problem both in England and internationally. However, relatively little is known about those affected, particularly in relation to their management at drug dependence treatment centres. This study aimed to explore the views and experiences of health care professionals (HCPs) working in formal drug treatment services in relation to supporting clients with prescription and OTC drug dependence.


An exploratory, qualitative design was used involving semi-structured telephone interviews. 15 staff were recruited using purposive sampling to represent a variety of different professional roles, funding (NHS, charity and local government) and geographical locations across England. Transcribed interviews were analysed using Braun and Clarke’s six stage thematic analysis.


Current services were considered to be inappropriate for the treatment of OTC and prescription drug dependence, which was perceived to be a significantly under-recognised issue affecting a range of individuals but particularly those taking opioid analgesics. Negativity around current treatment services involved concerns that these were more suited for illicit drug users and this was exacerbated by a lack of specific resources, funding and commissioning. There was a perceived variation in service provision in different areas and a further concern about the lack of formal treatment guidelines and care pathways. Participants felt there to be stigma for affected clients in both the diagnosis of OTC or prescription drug dependence and also attendance at drug treatment centres which adversely impacted service engagement. Suggested service improvements included commissioning new specific services in general practices and pain management clinics, developing national guidelines and care pathways to ensure equal access to treatment and increasing awareness amongst the public and HCPs.


This study reveals considerable negativity and concern about current treatment services for prescription and OTC drug dependence in England from the perspective of those working in such services. Policy and practice improvement are suggested to improve outcomes for this neglected group in relation to increasing funding, guidelines and awareness.

Coombes, H., Cooper, R.J. Staff perceptions of prescription and over-the-counter drug dependence services in England: a qualitative study. Addict Sci Clin Pract 14, 41 (2019) doi:10.1186/s13722-019-0170-4
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United Kingdom