Thousands of adults in Thurrock were prescribed highly addictive opioid painkillers last year, a new report reveals.

Public Health England figures show that 15,323 adults in the Thurrock Clinical Commissioning Group area received at least one prescription for opioid painkillers in 2017-18 – 12 per cent of the adult population.

Almost half the residents on a prescription for the drugs during March last year had been taking them for a year or more, the study found.

Opioids are known to be ineffective for most people over the long term, but many patients struggle to come off the drugs.

Experienced south Essex doctor, Krishna Chaturverdi warned against a “free and easy” approach to giving out the painkillers.

He admitted there are extreme risks to patients using the drug, and insisted they “are not doing any good after a week of taking them”.

After the Gazette approached Thurrock CCG for comment, Gurdev Kaur Bilkhu, specialist pharmacist for the Opioid IAPT pilot project and pain management said: “Whilst we know there are large numbers of people who rely on opioid pain relief for long term pain, Thurrock is actually performing better with lower numbers of people than in other areas.

“We still want to improve on the use of this type of medicine, as long term use of such drugs can result in addiction and dependence, which links to other emotional wellbeing issues that patients can face.

“Partnering NHS services with Inclusion psychological therapies, is a project that was launched earlier this year to provide support for patients to reduce the amount of opioids they take. The support comprises coping mechanisms and strategies to reduce anxiety, as well as management of withdrawal symptoms and social elements of day to day living. We have helped a number of patients reduce and stop their opioid use, and will continue our holistic approach to help others coping with long term pain management.”

As well as the use of opiods, it was revealed in Thurrock, 18,887 people received a prescription for anti-depressants in 2017-18 – 15 per cent of the adult population.

Gabapentinoids used to treat epilepsy, nerve pain and anxiety, were prescribed to 3 per cnet of adults, and 2 per cent received benzodiazepines, such as diazepam, for anxiety and insomnia.

And 2 per cent of adults collected a prescription for sleeping pills.