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PRESCRIBING DRUG ABUSE
Irish Medical Times,
June 27, 2008
by Gary Culliton
There has been a significant rise in prescriptions of drugs such as Valium (diazepam, up by a fifth) and Xanax (alprazolam, up by 42 per cent) in the five years since the landmark Benzodazapine Report called for a 'considerable reduction' in use of such drugs. Across-the-board benzodiazepine use has been rising inexorably, State drug scheme figures obtained by Irish Medical Times show.
"The report of the benzodiazepine committee, was coherent and should have significantly reduced the prescribing rate of benzodiazepines, but it has had absolutely no effect," said Dr Bernard Leddy, the President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland. "Pharmacists have raised concerns with the relevant authorities about over-prescribing by doctors of benzodiazepines."
Patients continue to use the drugs, long after they cease having a therapeutic effect, to avoid withdrawal symptoms, which can include a condition resembling delirium tremens. "Most experts regard this as crazy because the drugs have no therapeutic value after three to four weeks.
"After this, the pills are merely feeding an addiction," one senior lecturer in pharmacy told IMT. The 2002 Bradley Report recommended that doctors should critically and urgently review their current level of benzodiazepine prescribing and in many cases, this should lead to a considerable reduction'. The report added that due process of law should be used to prevent irresponsible prescribing of benzodiazepines.
The GMS benzodiazepine statistics from 2002 to 2007 for three schemes (Long Term Illness, General Medical Services and Drug Payment Scheme), show that prescription of these drugs has in fact risen by almost 10 per cent, since the Bradley Report.
Benzodiazepines are being used as long-term medication, even though the British National Formulary says that they 'are indicated for the short-term relief (two to four weeks only) of anxiety that is severe, disabling or subjecting the individual to unacceptable distress. The use of these drugs to treat short-term 'mild' anxiety is inappropriate and unsuitable'.
Prof Bradley called for a 'serious investigation of the problems giving rise to this and a comprehensive look at the various psychological conditions involved'.
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