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BACKGROUND: Trends in NHS opioid prescribing have been well published, yet trends in private prescribing of opioids have not been widely established. AIM: To assess trends and geographical variation in controlled opioids prescribed by private prescribers in England. DESIGN AND SETTING: This was a retrospective observational study in English primary health care. METHOD: Data on Schedule 2 and 3 controlled opioids ('controlled opioids') were obtained from the NHS Business Services Authority (BSA) using Freedom of Information (FOI) requests between 1 January 2014 and 30 November 2021. Absolute counts and rates of the number of items dispensed per cumulative number of registered private prescribers were calculated and stratified over time, by opioid type, and geographical region. RESULTS: This study found that 128 341 items of controlled opioids were prescribed by private prescribers in England between January 2014 and November 2021, which decreased by 50% from 23 339 items (4.09 items/prescriber) in 2014 to 11 573 items (1.49 items/prescriber) in 2020. Methadone (36%, n = 46 660) was the most common controlled opioid prescribed privately, followed by morphine (18%, n = 22 543), buprenorphine (16%, n = 20 521), and oxycodone (12%, n = 15 319). Prescriptions were highest in London (74%, n = 94 438), followed by the South-East of England (7%, n = 9237). A proportion of items (n = 462; 0.36%) were prescribed by 'unidentified doctors' where the prescription is not readily attributable to an individual prescriber by the BSA. CONCLUSION: Controlled opioids prescribed by private prescribers in England decreased and were primarily prescribed in London. To ensure patient safety, the monitoring and surveillance of controlled opioids dispensed privately should continue and items linked to 'unidentified doctors' should be addressed further.

Original publication




Journal article


The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners

Publication Date





e126 - e132