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Benzodiazepine use in Irish over 65s is higher than international average

Benzodiazepine medicine use in women over 65 years is 40% higher than in men, finds a new report.

Image: Shutterstock/Alexander Khoruzhenko

THE USE OF benzodiazepine medication by over 65s is the highest in the OECD, according to a new Department of Health report.  

The national average of over 65s on benzodiazepine medicine is 78.4 per 1,000 people, which is high in comparison to other countries. 

Data on the chronic usage of benzodiazepine medicines in people aged 65 years and older shows that in 2017, 49.1 per 1,000 patients were using the drug in Dublin South. 

The latest data shows that in South Tipperary, 98.8 of 1,000 patients aged over 65 had prescriptions dispensed for benzodiazepines, while 95.3 per 1,000 patients were using the medicine in Louth.

Other high rates of usage, and under the same categorisation, were shown in Longford/Westmeath (88.2), Cavan Monaghan (82.7) and the South Lee area of Cork (89.2). (Full data breakdown per county can be seen below).

Benzodiazepine medicine use in women over 65 years is 40% higher than in men, finds the report. 

Benzodiazepines are a class of medication that can be used in the treatment of a number of conditions, including treatment of insomnia, anxiety, addiction, agitation and neurological disorders.

However, the report notes that with an increased sensitivity to benzodiazepines and a slower metabolism, older patients are at high risk of developing delirium and cognitive impairment, and are more susceptible to falls and fractures. 

Dependence to benzodiazepines or ‘benzos’, as they are often referred to, is recognised as a significant risk in patients receiving treatment for longer than one month.

benzo

The report also states that there is a large variation in the prescription rates between men and women, with women being prescribed benzodiazepines for chronic use more frequently.

It notes that there is also large regional variation in the rate of prescriptions across community health office and local health office areas in Ireland.

There has been attempts to crack down on the usage, with the additional controls on the prescribing and dispensing of benzodiazepines and z-drugs being introduced in 2017. 

The HSE Medicines Management Programme published guidelines, tool kits and resources on the prescription of benzodiazepines in February 2018.

The latest figures of the national chronic prescription rate was taken from the Primary Care Reimbursement Service in Ireland.

While rates for the over-65s is high, the rates has been declining. In 2013, the rate of 80 patients per 1,000 aged 65 years and older had a prescription for a benzodiaepine for chronic use. This rate fell to 73 patients per 1,000 in 2017.

The report notes that the numbers could be a lot higher, stating that it is important to note that the Primary Care Reimbursement Service only contains information on prescriptions dispensed through one of the public schemes it administers.

Commenting on the medication use, Health Minister Simon Harris said publishing the date “brings a strong focus to this issue, and will be used by the HSE, health professionals and organisations across the health service as a source of information to identify examples of good practice which can be replicated with a view to improving the safety and quality of our health services”.

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