THOUSANDS of adults in Redditch and Bromsgrove - equating to one in eight grown-ups - were prescribed highly addictive opioid painkillers last year, a new report reveals.

Public Health England figures show that 18,192 adults in the Redditch and Bromsgrove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area received at least one prescription for opioid painkillers in 2017-18 – 13% of the adult population.

More than 40% of residents on a prescription for the drugs during March last year had been taking them for a year or more, the study found.

The figures exclude people who were prescribed opioid painkillers for cancer pain.

NHS Worcestershire and Herefordshire CCGs said its long term prescriptions were below the national average and added it is looking into alternative therapies.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said the country is "in the grip of an over-medication crisis", and pledged to take immediate steps to address the issue.

Mr Hancock said he was "incredibly concerned" by the findings of the review, which found that 5.6 million people across England were prescribed opioids in 2017-18.

He said: "The disturbing findings of the report, especially that one in eight adults in England are taking super-strength, addictive opioid painkillers, many for extended periods of time, prove to me that we are in the grip of an over-medication crisis.

"What is equally alarming is that in many cases, these medicines are unlikely to be working effectively due to over-use.

"I refuse to let this escalate to the level seen in the United States. To be clear, the entire healthcare system will now be involved in making sure we put an end to this, once and for all."

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

Although PHE was unable to put a figure on how many people were addicted to the painkillers, it said patients must be warned via a national helpline about dependency risks, and receive advice on coping with withdrawal.

The review also examined prescribing rates for anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills.

In Redditch and Bromsgrove, 23,382 people received a prescription for anti-depressants in 2017-18 – 16% of the adult population.

A spokesperson from NHS Herefordshire and Worcestershire CCGs said: ‘The report issued by Public Health England has indicated that nationally more people are taking potentially addictive prescription medications for longer periods than previously.

"Data shows that the number of people receiving a prescription for all types of medication reviewed (antidepressants, strong painkillers and sleeping tablets) for longer than 12 months was below the national average in all of the CCGs in Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

"Doctors routinely review people receiving repeat prescriptions and ensure that that medicines are prescribed appropriately and for the recommended period of time.

"In addition we are working closely with GPs, public health colleagues and other partners to ensure alternatives are available such as social prescribing and talking therapies that can often be just as helpful."