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Rogue doctors worse than backstreet drug dealers

Irish Examiner, May 21, 2001

A NUMBER of rogue doctors have been knowingly prescribing excessive amounts of tranquillisers called benzodiazepines, not out of medical necessity but for pure greed.

Benzodiazepines, which include such drugs as Valium, Librium, Dalmane, Ativan, Rohypnol and Normison, are commonly prescribed by family doctors, and the medical staff in both general and psychiatric hospitals, as well as nursing homes. They are popular in the treatment of anxiety and sleeplessness.

"There is inappropriate prescribing going on, not always consciously, but there are some doctors who know what they are doing and they are doing it for financial reasons," said Dr Ide Delargy of the Irish College of General Practitioners. "Most of the people being given benzodiazepines should not be on it and definitely shouldn't be on it longer than four weeks, but many are taking it for years."

Thousands of patients are becoming addicted as a result of over-prescription. Doctors who over-prescribe benzodiazepines for their own monetary gain are worse than the backstreet drug pushers.

Both may be motivated by mercenary considerations, but the offending doctors are abusing their privileged position. People are being unwittingly drawn into the world of drug addiction, because of a misplaced faith in the ethics of the medical profession.

Hence, such abuse is something that should be of as much concern to conscientious doctors as to the general public.

Evidence presented at the Lindsay Tribunal in recent months has been a stark reminder of the need for proper policing within the medical and health professions.

Two-thirds of the people on prescribed benzodiazepines have been taking the drug for more than a year. This is an intolerable situation, because patients quickly tend to become dependent on the drug.

The extent of this abuse has been so extensive that large quantities of those drugs are making it on to the streets, where they are being abused by heroin addicts.

Drug-related deaths normally involve a cocktail of drugs, including heroin and methadone. Over the past three years, however, a staggering 70% of the 179 drug fatalities in Dublin city and country have involved benzodiazepines. The Department of Heath has therefore set up a committee to recommend new guidelines for health professionals.

This will likely involve limiting drug doses and restricting prescriptions of benzodiazepines. Moreover, the prescription should not be permitted to extend over more than a four-week period, and repeat prescriptions should not be allowed.

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