BACP today joined three organisations representing the UK’s 80,000 psychological therapists in welcoming the PHE’s recommendations to tackle prescribed drug dependence and their call for new services to support those affected.

But we also call for more specific action to be taken and announced we will soon publish new guidance for our members dealing with clients’ long-term drug prescriptions or the effects of withdrawal.

Dr Hadyn Williams, our CEO, said: “The PHE’s recommendations to tackle prescribed drug dependence are to be welcomed.

“Overprescribing of psychiatric drugs is part of the medicalisation of human distress. It is limiting choice and opportunity for clients to recover and in many cases creating further issues and side-effects.

“There is a need for more choice for clients, including talking therapies, and more can be done to assist people seeking help to come off prescription drugs.


“We want to work with our members to help them understand these issues to better support clients. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence (APPG-PDD) is carrying out some important work in this field, including looking at the guidance for therapists supporting clients taking or withdrawing from such drugs.”

The UK’s psychological therapy organisations responding are BACP, the British Psychological Society (BPS), UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and National Counselling Society (NCS).

The report shows that one in four adults in England has been prescribed a benzodiazepine, z-drug, gabapentinoid, opioid or antidepressant in the past 12 months, with up to a third of these receiving a prescription for at least three years. Prescribing rates are significantly higher in deprived areas of England, while women and older adults have the highest rates.

The report builds on four years of work by the APPG-PDD, which has focused on this issue since being founded in 2015. 

The APPG-PDD was particularly pleased to note that the report contains recommendations which the APPG has long campaigned for, including:

  • A 24-hour national helpline and associated website to provide expert advice and support, also acting as a resource for patients and doctors to support shared decision-making
  • Updated clinical guidance as well as new guidance on management of dependence and withdrawal, and improved training to ensure clinicians adhere to this guidance
  • Provision of better information to patients about risks and benefits of these medicines, as well as alternatives such as social prescribing
  • Further research into the nature and severity of withdrawal, and the treatment of dependence and withdrawal, caused by prescribed drugs
  • Appropriate support from the NHS for patients experiencing dependence and withdrawal problems, including dedicated support services
  • Review of the training and educational resources for practitioners in relation to prescribed drug dependence and withdrawal


Sir Oliver Letwin, chair of the APPG for Prescribed Drug Dependence, added: “The PHE report published today reveals the scale of the problem of prescribed drug dependence in this country, with millions of people taking dependency-forming medications including antidepressants, often for years.

“The APPG for Prescribed Drug Dependence is pleased to have brought together the therapy organisations to provide this essential guidance for their members, which enable therapists to help their clients cope with the problems sometimes encountered with these drugs.”

Prof Sarah Niblock, CEO of UKCP, added: “Much more needs to be done to tackle overprescribing, which is why together, we are calling for three more actions, specifically the de-medicalisation of emotional distress as the normal human response to difficult circumstances and life events; support services and a helpline to help dependent patients, with shared decision making for deprescribing; and an increase in the range and duration of talking therapies available to people, alongside more social prescribing.”

Sarb Bajwa, Chief Executive of BPS, said: “Getting the right support for people facing the effects of prescribed drug dependence has never been more important. But a historical lack of summarised evidence, information and training about the impact that prescribed drugs can have on clients and on therapy itself has often hampered the efforts of the UK’s 80,000 psychological therapists.”

A recent survey of 1,200 practising therapists commissioned by the organisations revealed that the majority felt ill-equipped to manage such issues in the therapeutic setting, with over 93% reporting they would find it ‘useful’ or ‘very useful’ to have guidance to help them work more confidently with people either taking or withdrawing from psychiatric drugs.