People living in Doncaster are prescribed heavy duty painkillers such as codeine, tramadol and morphine far in excess of wealthy areas – because people are more likely to suffer depression and pain through manual work.
Doctors in poor areas prescribe up to four times as many high-strength opioid painkillers than wealthy areas – with Doncaster named in the UK’s top ten.
The study found that patients in the north are far more likely to be prescribed the drugs than in the south, with GPs in Blackpool and St Helens dispensing the highest number of drugs.
The study found that there was a correlation between the amount of drugs prescribed and the health and wealth of a particular area.
The least well off and unhealthy areas saw more prescriptions for opioid drugs, the report said.
Experts suggest higher levels of taxing manual labour, smoking and depression could contribute to people in the north suffering more pain.
Researchers at the universities of Nottingham and Manchester delved into NHS GP prescribing figures and found eight of the 10 areas with the most prescriptions were all north of Nottingham.
Opioids are among the strongest painkillers used by the NHS but – as members of the same chemical family as heroin – are highly addictive.
Scientists said their findings show a direct link between opioid use and an area's level of wealth and education – and people who are better off use fewer drugs.
This also makes people in less wealthy areas more likely to have a drug overdose, because they likely have easier access to them and potentially a higher tolerance.
'This study shows that your socioeconomic status has a strong association with opiate prescribing for pain,' said Manchester's Dr Teng-Chou Chen.
'We don’t yet know why this is, but if for example you are a manual worker, which is more likely in socially deprived areas, then you’re more likely to have [muscle and skeleton] problems and therefore need opiates.
'Smoking and depression are also more prevalent in poorer areas, but whatever the causes, it’s clear that people living in more deprived areas are at more risk of overdose and it is helpful for clinicians to be aware of this.'
The other areas making up the 10 worst affected are Lincolnshire East, Knowsley, Barnsley, Corby, Halton, Great Yarmouth and South Tees.
The research was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.