Our annual update on the safe management and use of controlled drugs

Published: 21 July 2020 Page last updated: 12 May 2022

This year’s Safer Management of Controlled Drugs annual update gives an overview of prescribing data and trends for controlled drugs across England, as well as information on key changes to legislation.

While the report covers the calendar year 2019, given the rapid changes across health and social care in response to COVID-19, this year we also include initial learning and legal changes in early 2020.

To help people working with controlled drugs to further strengthen the arrangements for their safe management and use, the report makes three recommendations. This year, these focus on:

  • The importance of monitoring repeat prescriptions and making sure that people fully understand the nature of the medicines they are being prescribed – including the potential for dependence.
  • Making sure that systems are in place for the rapid and safe mobilisation of controlled drugs that may be important to people’s end of life care – and that local areas are suitably prepared for future situations when the health and care system may experience significant pressures.
  • The importance of healthcare professionals understanding the needs and wishes of individuals at the end of their life, and the inappropriateness of a blanket approach to decisions about end of life care.

The report highlights our activity as part of our responsibilities under the Controlled Drugs (Supervision of Management and Use) Regulations 2013, and allows us to share the key issues raised by NHS England CDAOs during the year. It also includes examples of the issues raised and followed up through the controlled drug local area networks.

As in previous years, we provide data on overall prescribing trends for controlled drugs. These were broadly similar to 2018 except for the impact of the rescheduling of the gabapentinoids to become Schedule 3 controlled drugs from April 2019. They now account for one in five of all controlled drugs prescribed. We also continue our focus on the prescribing picture for opioids prescribed in combination with benzodiazepines, pregabalin and gabapentin across the CCG areas of England.