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In Britain, Painkillers Are More Difficult to Obtain Than in the United States

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Painkillers are more difficult to obtain in Britain compared with the United States, according to the Associated Press. The country’s system of socialized medicine, where patients generally receive their care from one physician, makes “doctor shopping” for multiple prescriptions almost impossible, experts note.

Prescriptions for opioids must be written on a special pink pad, and are cross-referenced with Britain’s National Health Service. This allows patients’ primary doctor to know what drugs their patients are receiving from other physicians.

Dr. Anthony Ordman, founder of a pain clinic at London’s Royal Free Hospital, told the AP that British doctors are less likely to automatically grant patients’ requests. “In the U.S., doctors might wish to please their patients and prescribe them something because they’re clients,” he said. “But in the U.K., the patient doesn’t pay the doctor directly so I can choose not to prescribe painkillers without the fear of suffering financially myself.”

While use of painkillers has been increasing in Britain, the increase has been much less compared with the United States.

Strong painkillers generally are reserved for people who have had traumatic accidents, are suffering from cancer-related pain, or who are in palliative care. Vicodin is not licensed in Britain, according to the article. Over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are generally sold in packs of 16, and a person cannot purchase more than 100 pills at one time without a prescription.

Many patients say Britain’s restrictive approach to pain medicine leaves them suffering, and some doctors agree. Dr. Michael Platt, lead clinician for pain services at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, told the AP, “To make it harder to prescribe enough painkillers for a patient in agony is wrong and essentially a form of torture. Either we need to treat the pain properly or we tell the patient they are just going to have to suffer.”

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