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Letter from Hon Annette King, Minister of Health to Ms Dianne Yates MP about Benzodiazepines

Minister of Health


Parliament Buildings, Wellington, New Zealand
Telephone: (04) 470 6554
Facsimile: (04) 495 8445

28 June 2001

Dear Dianne

Thank you for your letter of 23 May 2001 regarding the correspondence you received from Anna de Jonge, Patients' Rights Advocacy Waikato Inc, about benzodiazepines.

Ms de Jonge has also sent me a copy of her submission on benzodiazepines to the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs.

I note Ms de Jonge's comments about consumer product information not being given with prescriptions for benzodiazepines. My answer to a question from Sue Kedgley last month (written question 6341) sets out the present situation regarding consumer medicine information. A copy of that question is enclosed.

Benzodiazepines are now classified as Class C5 controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. Before this classification change benzodiazepines were classified as medicines under the Medicines Act 1981. The change has brought with it heavier penalties for illegal dealing and possession. It is also an offence to prescribe benzodiazepines for the treatment of dependency. The penalties have increased to a maximum of eight years imprisonment and a $1,000 fine depending on the offence. Under the Medicines Act the penalties were a maximum of three months' imprisonment or a $500 fine.

The Ministry of Health's medicine control officers receive reports of suspected inappropriate prescribing, on behalf of the medical officer of health (MOH), from pharmacists, police and hospitals. The MOH has the power to request an explanation of the prescribing from the doctor concerned. If a satisfactory answer is not given, the matter can be referred to the Medical Council of New Zealand for possible disciplinary action, or a recommendation that the doctor be prohibited from prescribing the particular drug or class of drugs. If a doctor is prescribing outside the terms of a prohibition, then the doctor can be prosecuted under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

In the South Island the Independent Practitioners Association has a system of peer review and review of prescribing that offers support and education to doctors whose prescribing has been brought into doubt.

People who are using benzodiazepines inappropriately or "doctor shopping" for them can be restricted to a gazetted prescriber for treatment of dependence.

I trust this information will enable you to respond to Ms de Jonge.

Yours sincerely

Hon Annette King



006341 SUE KEDGLEY to the Minister of Health

Further to her reply to question for written answer No 3759 (2001), is the prescribing information about the highly addictive nature of benzodiazepines included in the packets of pills that are prescribed to patients; if not, why not?


HON ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health) replied:

The legislation that regulates the sale of medicines does not require the manufacturers to provide leaflets or package inserts intended to provide information to consumers. In addition, as many of the benzodiazepines prescribed by practitioners are packed and supplied in bottles for dispensing by pharmacists, rather than in boxes or packs, it is not physically possible for dispensing packs to include leaflets or inserts intended for patients. As for medical practitioners, pharmacists also have an obligation to provide information about medications at the request of the consumer.

Until new medicines legislation is developed, the Ministry of Health has developed a Code of Practice for the industry to supply information on the safe use of medicines to consumers. This information called Consumer Medicines Information (CMI) will be supplied to consumers by either the prescribing practitioner at the time of consultation or pharmacist when the medicine is dispensed. The Ministry is encouraging product distributors to write and provide CMI, and examples of CMI can be found on the Medsafe website (www.medsafe.govt.nz). Medsafe will launch a promotion campaign for CMI in June this year.

Hon Annette King

Office of the Clerk
30 May 2001

Australia & New Zealand Page

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