By Blaine Williams
Dependence on over-the-counter and prescription-only drugs presents a "significant problem", an inquiry has concluded.
The All Party Parliamentary Drugs Misuse Group (APPDMG) today published findings of a year-long investigation into legal drug dependency.
The medication implicated includes benzodiazepines, some antidepressants and painkillers - particularly those containing codeine.
Evidence was given by a number of individuals who have been taking this type of medication for over 30 years, despite GP's recommending that the drugs be used for no longer than a month.
Dr Brian Iddon, chairman of the APPDMG, said: "Our inquiry has only scratched the surface of this problem.
"We have received evidence from individuals and support groups about the extremely distressing effects of dependency to or withdrawal from a range of over-the-counter or prescription-only drugs".
Some people have been incapacitated by the symptoms associated with their dependence on or withdrawal from the medication, which included panic attacks, confusion, anxiety, severe joint pain, tremors and stomach ulcers.
The lack of support available for people when they found they were dependent on medication prescribed by their GP or bought from their pharmacy was highlighted as a major problem.
Often the only source of help for individuals dependent on these kinds of drugs are online forums, small charities and support groups, because the drug treatment service is not adequately equipped to deal with them.
"More concerning still is the lack of support available," added Dr Iddon.
"Local drug treatment services are often unable to assist and if their GP is unsympathetic, people can be left to deal with their problems alone."
The members of the APPDMG were seriously concerned about the lack of official data which could aid in determining the full scale and effects of the problem.
Dr Iddon summed up the report, saying: "This issue cannot be ignored any longer. We must establish the scale of the problem and provide proper diagnosis and treatment for those affected."
Martin Barnes Chief Executive of DrugScope welcomed the report, saying: "We hope the report will be the catalyst for much greater awareness of the potential harms that prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause and we welcome the inquiry's recommendation that the government carry out research into this area.
"The small number of support groups that exist play an important role, but the inquiry has highlighted the need for better information and support from GPs and health service providers."
The report recommends medical students and nurses are trained to notice signs of dependency. The MPs also called for information about addiction to be increased and for primary care trusts to be required to provide support.