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The Irish Examiner
February 6, 2004

by Ann Cahill,
Europe Correspondent

Irish people use highly-addictive tranquillisers and sleeping pills more than anyone else in Europe, according to evidence presented to the EU in Brussels yesterday.

Prescription drugs like Valium (diazepam) kill more people in Dublin each year than heroin and crack cocaine while the tablets are suspected of being a major factor in suicides across the country.

The European Commission has agreed to prepare guidelines on the use of these drugs for patients and doctors and on providing support for addicts.

Health Commissioner David Byrne has supported the idea.

About 145,000 Irish people with medical cards were regularly prescribed the drugs known as benzodiazepines or benzos in 2000.

The number of medical card prescriptions trebled in the five years from 1995 to 2000, according to Barry Haslam, who is campaigning for guidelines on their prescription and use.

There are twice as many prescriptions for them in Ireland each year than in Portugal, the second highest users, said Mr Haslam.

Figures show that Belgium has the third highest usage with France and Spain following while Britain has an estimated 1.5 million addicts and the Netherlands, 700,000 chronic users.

The number of prescriptions is also increasing in all the countries too, he said, while drug detox units in Ireland show an equal number being treated for addiction to prescription drugs as to illegal substances.

Most people are on the drugs for much longer than they should be. The Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Irish College of General Practitioners have advised that benzos should not be prescribed for more than two to four weeks.

Former addict Mr Haslam founded the Beat the Benzos campaign to force governments to recognise the damage that these prescription drugs can do.

Yesterday he brought his campaign to the European Commission and presented them with evidence from professional reports and surveys throughout the EU.

He says the biggest problem is a lack of information. "No country systematically collects data on this subject and the information that is available is incomplete."

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