But, although the UK figure is 7% higher than in 2015, it is less than 2% of the amount paid in the US.
Dr Richard Frank is professor of health economics at Harvard Business School, and served in the Health Department from 2009 to 2016, during President Obama’s administration.
He thinks medical training in the US has not been good enough.
“Physicians have received almost no training in pain management,” he says.
“Until recently they have been under some pretty important misconceptions about how addictive various products are.”
He adds: “A couple of years ago I testified before congress when I was in government. One of the representatives, before going into congress, was a thoracic surgeon.
“He noted that he had gotten almost no training in pain management – and what he had learned came entirely from the nursing staff he worked with.”
Dr Frank says medical training isn’t the only reason for America’s opioid problem. “There’s plenty of blame to go round,” he says.
But his criticism is echoed by Professor Judith Feinberg.
“Doctors didn’t learn anything about addiction at medical school,” she says.
“That is now changing, but everyone who’s a doctor already, didn’t learn anything. I learned about opioid drugs in the part of pharmacology where we learned about anaesthesia.
“Probably the whole topic of anaesthesia-like drugs was two hours. People don’t have much knowledge about opioids. There was no curriculum that includes addiction.”
In 1980, Dr Hershel Jick wrote a short letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.
It said that “despite widespread use of narcotic drugs in hospitals, the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction”.
The claim has been debunked, and the letter now carries an online warning note. But Dr Jick’s letter had a big impact.
This year, Canadian researchers said the letter had been cited 600 times – usually to claim opioids weren’t addictive.
In the late 1990s the Veterans Health Administration – which runs healthcare for military veterans – pushed for pain to be recognised as the “fifth vital sign”.
This gave pain equal status with blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature.
Then in 2001, the Joint Commission – which certifies almost 21,000 US health organisations and programmes – established standards for pain assessment and treatment.
In 2016, the JC released a statement that claimed that “everyone is looking for someone to blame” for the opioid problem. It insisted that its 2001 standards did not “require the use of drugs to manage a patient’s pain”.
But Professor Feinberg says the VHA and JC’s moves meant doctors were under pressure to prescribe strong painkillers – such as opioids – when they may not have been necessary.
“By the time you reach middle age, it’s a rare person who doesn’t ache somewhere,” she says.
She adds that – in a country where patients rate their doctors, and low ratings can affect doctors’ earnings – the score can be influenced by whether patients receive opioids.
A culture of medication
Some Americans, says Professor Keith Humphreys from Stanford University, believe that life is “fixable”.
“I’m 51,” he says. “If I go to an American doctor and say ‘Hey – I ran the marathon I used to run when I was 30, now I’m all sore, fix me’, my doctor will probably try to fix me.
“If you do that in France the doctor would say ‘It’s life, have a glass of wine – what do you want from me?'”
In 2016, a study compared how Japanese and American doctors prescribed opioids. It found that Japanese doctors treated acute pain with opioids in 47% of cases – compared to 97% in the US.
“There is obviously a willingness, and a habit, of giving opioid pain relief that is not shared elsewhere,” says Professor Feinberg.
“Other countries deal with pain in much healthier ways.”