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BBC 4 Face the Facts
July 27, 2011

Wednesday 27th July 2011

The Public Health minister for England has told the BBC she will 'act quickly' to put services in place for addicts withdrawing from prescription tranquilliser drugs.

An investigation by Radio 4's Face the Facts reveals prescription numbers in England for benzodiazepines a group of tranquillisers commonly prescribed for insomnia and anxiety are rising, and there's little help for those who become addicted and want to withdraw.

Estimates suggest up to one and a half million people across the UK could be addicted to these drugs. Yet in England, the number of prescriptions issued last year rose by 8 per cent to almost eleven and a half million.

Guidelines first issued to GPs in 1988 say that the drugs, which include diazepam and temazapam, shouldn't be given to patients for longer than 2 to 4 weeks.

Yet a report published in May, which looked at prescribing in England for the 19 years to 2009, found over a third of prescriptions were for more than 8 weeks. And for those who become addicted, and want to withdraw, the investigation found there are few treatment services available.

Dr Clare Gerada, the Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, told the programme benzodiazepines are effective drugs and that she was confident GPs are prescribing safely and sensibly.

Yet Public Health Minister Anne Milton admitted prescription drug addiction was an issue that's 'fallen through the cracks'. She promised the Department of Health would now 'get a grip' of it by working with GPs to raise awareness and get the right services in place to aid withdrawal.

You can hear more on Radio 4's Face the Facts: Prescribed Addiction at 1230 BST on Wednesday 27th July, repeated at 2100 BST on Sunday 31st July.

Katy Takatsuki
Producer, BBC Radio 4
Face the Facts
5045 Broadcasting House
London W1A 1AA
0207 765 4919

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