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REPORT HIGHLIGHTS TRANQUILLISER
PERIL: ADDICTION WARNING
July 31, 1989
by Pearce Wright,
More than 500,000 people may be addicted to the tranquilliser drugs based on benzodiazepines, according to a report published today for the Association of Community Health Councils.
The report says: 'Doctors are still prescribing far too many tranquillisers. More than 25 million prescriptions are issued each year. Many of these prescriptions are repeats and inappropriate long-term prescribing remains widespread.'
The report describes the severe withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines, which include such brand-name drugs as Valium, Librium and Ativan. More than 3 million people are estimated to be 'chronic' users. Yet benzodiazepines do not 'cure' anxiety or insomnia, the report says. They are designed to remove the disabling effects of anxiety or insomnia, to allow a person to cope during a crisis.
Once the crisis is ended it is assumed that the individual's need will cease.
Dependency on the drug and difficulty of withdrawal are said to increase markedly with regular use.
After six months of use 10 per cent of patients experience withdrawal symptoms. After four years about 45 per cent and after six years up to 75 per cent have severe withdrawal problems. Arguments continue between the experts over how and why dependency occurs. Although under the National Health Service benzodiazepines can only be prescribed in their generic form, doctors have found some patients wish to have prescribed their 'old' brand-named drug. Steps proposed in the report to reduce benzodiazepine dependence include action to reduce the number of repeat prescriptions. Benzodiazepines should be prescribed in smaller numbers at any time. GPs should insist on seeing patients before issuing new prescriptions and they should ensure the patient has access to counselling and support.
The report wants alternatives to drugs found to help those suffering from anxiety and sleeplessness. This will mean advice on relaxation techniques and counselling being available through clinics and GPs' surgeries. The report outlines legal moves in progress to prove negligence over benzodiazepine prescribing. At least 1/500 people have applied for legal aid to take action.
Benzodiazepines: A suitable case for treatment, Association of Community Health Councils, 30 Drayton Park, London N5 1PB; £4).
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