MORE prescription drugs are being dispensed to treat alcohol dependence in Southampton, figures show.

Addiction experts say the increase is expected given a rise in alcohol-related hospital admissions in the South East – although the rest of the country has seen fewer of the drugs prescribed.

New NHS Prescription Services statistics reveal that NHS Southampton CCG dispensed 715 prescriptions for the two main alcohol dependence drugs – acamprosate calcium and disulfiram – in 2018.

It was 19% more than during the previous year, in line with the rising number of admissions to hospital for alcohol-related diagnoses at both a regional and national level.

But across England, the NHS prescribed fewer alcohol dependence drugs than any other since 2011 – while hospital admissions rose for the 15th successive year.

​The vast majority of prescriptions in Southampton were for acamprosate calcium (80%), used to help prevent people who have successfully achieved abstinence from alcohol relapsing.

The drug, which makes up the bulk of all alcohol dependence prescriptions nationally, is usually used in combination with counselling to reduce alcohol craving.

In Southampton, the remaining 20% were for disulfiram, which can be used by those trying to achieve abstinence but who are worried about relapsing. It deters someone from drinking by causing unpleasant physical reactions when they do, including nausea, chest pain and vomiting.

More prescriptions were dispensed in Southampton, and the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions in the South East rose to over 170,000 in 2018-19 – 6% up on the year before.

Nuno Albuquerque, group treatment lead at addiction treatment specialists UKAT, said that with high rates of hospitalisation due to alcohol, he would expect to see higher prescribing rates for the drugs across the country.

It is “both confusing and worrying” that prescriptions had reduced by 13% in just three years across England, he added.

He said: “What could be happening is that more and more people are turning to self-help approaches because they're having difficulty in booking an appointment with their GP in the first place.

“Someone in active addiction who has their 'moment of clarity' and decides to ask for help in that moment will require an urgent appointment to get the prescribed drugs they potentially need.

“If this isn't possible, because of lengthy waiting times or lack of same-day appointment slots, the addict could try to go 'cold-turkey' without the medical and professional support they need.

"This in itself is extremely dangerous and not advised and could also explain the recent NHS statistics which show an alarming rise in the number of people being admitted into hospital for alcohol-related conditions, including withdrawal.”

Jo Churchill, Public Health Minister for Department of Health and Social Care, said alcohol care teams introduced in hospitals with the highest number of alcohol-related admissions expect to prevent 50,000 admissions over five years.

She added: “This has a terrible impact on their lives and their families. Our aim is to see joined up services ensuring people can be directed to the appropriate place wherever and whenever they look for help."