Tranquilisers Use Increases In North West

Almost 140,000 prescriptions for tranquilisers were issued by doctors in the Western Health and Social Services Board area last year.

The number of benzodiazepine sedatives prescribed to local people rose to its highest level in four years in 2006 to 139,048 prescriptions.

The figure is below the Northern Ireland average, with overall figures nearing a million prescriptions a year for drugs such as diazepam, temazepam and nitrazepam.

Carmel Phelan, co-ordinator of the Foyle Tranquiliser Initiative said more services were needed to deal with tranquiliser misuse.

Ms Phelan said that while many people were willing to seek help, waiting lists for clinics run by Community Mental Health now stood at between 12 and 18 months.

The FTI group was set up in October 2005 after concern over the widespread use of tranquilisers and sleeping pills in Londonderry.

The group is currently working with statutory and voluntary agencies to organise stress management workshops and education seminars on alternatives to medication.

Ms Phelan said the group was currently engaged in “encouraging people to take responsibility and look at the stress in their lives”.

She added: “Life has got faster and there is a lack of support out there in relation to stress management. A lot of people are suffering from a sense of anxiety and need help in relation to seeing somebody. We urge them to look at ways of managing stress as opposed to going to the doctor, getting a script and taking tablets, which is only a short term solution.”

Government guidelines state tranquilisers should not be taken for no more than three months, but some locals are on them for decades. The Troubles, poverty and alcoholism are cited as the main reasons why people are prescribed such drugs.

A total of 138,963 tranquiliser prescriptions were issued by doctors in the Western Board area in 2003.

WHSSB director of pharmaceutical services Joe Brogan says the amount of such scripts issued have been levelling off.

Mr Brogan said: “We recognise that there is still a need to be vigilant about benzodiazepine use.

“Medicines such as diazepam and temazepam should ideally be used for only short periods of time and it is important that patients should be reviewed should they remain on these medicines for more than four weeks.”