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[Medical Independent] , Shannon, June An addiction on prescription. (30 Jun 2011)

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The misuse of benzodiazepines continues to be a significant issue in Irish society and doctors must accept their role in this problem, June Shannon reports

In 2002 a report compiled by the Benzodiazepine Committee found that over one in 10 GMS patients was being prescribed benzodiazepines. The prescribing and misuse of these drugs were, according to the report, “significant health issues in Ireland”.

Almost a decade later, figures suggest that prescribing frequency, use and deaths from benzodiazepine abuse have increased in Ireland.

Just last week the Minister of State Roisín Shortall announced a new initiative to tackle overprescribing of the drugs.

Benzodiazepines are one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the world. While generally considered safe and effective for short-term use in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia and seizures, the risk of overuse, abuse and dependence remains a key concern.

There are also concerns regarding the overprescribing of these drugs. According to a recent report in the Irish Examiner, figures from the Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) show the prescribing of one particular brand of benzodiazepine has increased from 283,000 prescriptions in 2005 to 382,921 in 2008.

In 2006/7 a national survey on drug prevalence examined the use of sedatives and tranquillisers in those aged between 15 and 64 in Ireland. More than one in 10 (11 per cent) of those surveyed reported having used such drugs at some point in their lives. Use was reported by a higher proportion of older adults (15 per cent) than young adults (6 per cent), and by a higher proportion of females (13 per cent) than males (8 per cent). The average age at first use was 29 years for men and 31 for women. This survey also found that well over half (57 per cent) of current users – those who had used sedatives or tranquillisers in the previous month – had taken them on a daily basis.

According to the latest statistics from the Health Research Board (HRB), there has been an increase in numbers seeking treatment for, or dying from benzodiazepine misuse in Ireland.....


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