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TREATMENT PLAN FOR DRUGS GOES NATIONAL

Oldham Chronicle
April 26, 2004
by Janice Barker

Oldham's pioneering tranquilliser treatment plan for long-term addicts was outlined at a national conference on Friday.

More than 100 delegates heard experts describe the UK problem of people addicted to prescribed benzodiazepines and how the Oldham scheme was tackling it.

The problem peaked at 32 million prescriptions a year in 1978.

But despite advice to doctors and warnings from the Committee of Safety on Medicines that they should only be used short term, more than a million people were still long-term addicts of the legally prescribed drugs.

The conference, at the Avant Hotel, attracted 100 nurses, doctors and specialists who heard from Professor Heather Ashton, professor of clinical psychopharmacology at Newcastle University.

She pointed out that benzodiazepine prescriptions cost 20.9 million a year.

"At present there are about one million long-term prescribed benzodiazepine users in the UK, that is more than 180 per GP practice," Professor Ashton said.

For short-term occasional therapy they were remarkably useful drugs, she said.

However, recent reminders from the Department of Health that doctors should only prescribe them for two to four weeks had led to sudden withdrawals and traumatic consequences for long-term users.

But they could be successfully treated by managed withdrawal and support, if clear guidelines were followed, and the relapse rate was very, very low.

Susan Bibby, of the Benzact group, described the effects the drugs could have on mothers and babies during and after pregnancy, leading to the floppy-baby syndrome of a child already addicted to benzodiazepines in the womb.

She said more research was needed and outlined how in America, doctors were warned not to prescribe them during pregnancy.

Alan Higgins, Oldham Primary Care Trust's director of public health, said the trust had done research that estimated that 5,194 people in Oldham received benzodiazepines - mainly for insomnia.

The trust was now monitoring prescriptions, educating GPs, using community pharmacists to work with high prescribers and had also found money to set up a treatment and withdrawal service.

This would be operated by Oldham's Alcohol and Drugs Services in Union Street, and the service manager, Gwen Higham.

She said: "Letters will soon go out to people prescribed the drugs for more than two months inviting them in to help with tapered withdrawal."

See: Conference Agenda and News Release


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