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Irish doctors urged to stop over-prescribing benzodiazepines and similar drugs

That council has warned that over-prescriptions of the drugs is affecting the safety of Irish patients.

Image: Shutterstock/Stephan Schlachter

THE MEDICAL COUNCIL has warned that doctors who are caught over-prescribing benzodiazepines, z-drugs and Pregabalin will face disciplinary action.

The council is seeking to take action on the issue at national level, as it believes that the over-prescription of the drugs is negatively affecting the safety of patients.

Benzodiazepines are a group of medicines that can be prescribed for short periods to help with sleeping problems, or to help with episodes of severe anxiety.

They are not for long-term use, and can be dangerous if a patient develops an overreliance or a dependency on them.

President of the Medical Council, Dr Rita Doyle said that inappropriate prescribing of benzodiazepines, z-drugs, Pregabalin and other controlled drugs is having a significant impact on patient safety and wellbeing.

“While benzodiazepines may have a role in the treatment of a patient on a time-limited basis, caution and strict monitoring are required when they are prescribed,” she said.

“As a council, we acknowledge and appreciate the challenges faced by practitioners, the difficulties some practices are experiencing in terms of benzodiazepine and z-drug usage, and the demands from some patients for this and similar types of medication.”

Doyle urged doctors who face challenges prescribing benzodiazepines to engage with the HSE’s Addiction Services for support and guidance.

“Any doctor whose level of prescribing is above the normal range, and who is not working in an exceptional area of practice, and who does not make any effort to refer their patients to support or reduce their high-prescribing levels may require formal investigation by the Medical Council,” Doyle said.

“However, it is vitally important that any patient who is taking benzodiazepines or z-drugs does not stop taking them without advice and guidance from their doctor.”

The council reminded doctors to ensure that their prescriptions for benzodiazepines meet the requirements of prescribing legislation, to be satisfied about the identity of the person for whose treatment the prescription is issued, and to ensure the safe-keeping of prescription pads to reduce the risk of theft and forgery.

Patients who become dependent upon the drugs are also urged to attend an appropriate drug treatment service.

Earlier this year, it emerged that the use of benzodiazepines by over 65s in Ireland is the highest in the OECD.

Stricter prescribing procedures for certain medications were also introduced under the Misuse of Drugs Act to combat the misuse of benzodiazepines in 2017.

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