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January 17, 1998
Newsquest (Media Group) Ltd

You can score it illegally anywhere from Borehamwood to the Grahame Park Estate for as little as a pound.

But it's not ecstasy or heroin that tops Barnet Health Authority's list of the most commonly abused drugs.

That honour goes to a group of tranquillisers known as benzodiazepines which are sometimes stolen from pharmacies, but most commonly are obtained legally on prescription.

Better known by names like Temazepam and Diazepam (trade name Valium), benzos were prescribed in their millions in the 1970s and still account for 7,100 prescriptions each month in Barnet, mainly for conditions such as insomnia and anxiety.

Signs of dependency can appear within months through a range of symptoms including depression, drowsiness and dizziness.

Users have up to twice as many accidents as non-users but may not realise their concentration has been affected until much later. Up to half of long-term users say they want to give up, perhaps because after four weeks the drug ceases to have any therapeutic effect on the patient's original symptoms.

But addiction can be difficult to break and patients often complain that their GP never formally asks them to cut down. In the past some GPs have made things worse by inappropriately continuing one-off prescriptions made in hospital to give a patient a good night's sleep on a busy ward.

Although benzo prescriptions in the borough have decreased by 16 per cent since 1990, Barnet Health Authority wants GPs to stop routinely doling out drugs.

Instead it wants them to make the extra effort to review prescriptions regularly and push alternative treatments such as relaxation classes and hypnotherapy.

To help, this week it launched a resource pack for GPs and carers to ram home the message that patients must give up benzos or reduce their use. It stresses many older patients need reassuring that sleeping for five to six hours each night is normal.

For help with addiction to sleeping pills, see your GP or contact support groups run by MIND in Barnet at Schoolway, North Finchley, on 0181 446 1654, or Barnet Drug and Alcohol Service on 0181 200 9525.

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