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Valium prescriptions soar during recession


By Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent

Published: 8:15AM BST 02 May 2010


Prescriptions of Valium, the highly addictive pill for stress and anxiety disorders, have risen by more than 11 per cent in three years.


Senior doctors expressed alarm that the drug diazepam, commonly known as Valium, is now being dispensed almost 5 million times a year in England.


The Royal College of General Practitioners said GPs should be referring those suffering from anxiety for counselling, not drugs which could result in a lifelong addiction.


They warned that the pills, once dubbed "mother's little helpers", were very difficult to stop taking, and should no longer be recommended to most patients.


NHS figures show that in the first nine months of 2009, more than 3.6 million prescriptions were written for diazepam in England – an 11 per cent rise on the 3.25 million dispensed in 2006, and an increase of 17 per cent in a decade.


If the trend continues, it will amount to more than 4.8 million prescriptions issued in 2009, according to figures held by the NHS Prescription Pricing Authority.


The drug can be given for stress and anxiety but GPs are told to only allow its short-term use, and are encouraged to refer patients for counselling, or in some cases to prescribe antidepressants.


Prof Steve Field, chairman of the RCGP said he was "shocked" by the figures uncovered by The Sunday Telegraph.


The Birmingham GP said: "In my own practice we have reduced dramatically the amount of prescribing we do of these kinds of drugs, because they are horrifically addictive, and people can get hooked on them within just a few days.


"I am really shocked by these figures."


Levels of stress and anxiety had risen significantly since the recession, he said.


He urged patients to ask their GPs for access to psychological therapies, rather than drugs, but said the availability of counselling varied widely across the country.


Prescribing of the benzodiazepine family of drugs, which includes Valium, peaked in the 1970s, but fell sharply in the 1980s and 1990s after guidance was repeatedly issued to GPs saying the drugs should not be prescribed for more than four weeks at a time, because of their addictive nature.


Meanwhile, a black market in the drugs has also emerged among heroin addicts using it as a cheaper alternative.


Dr Peter Byrne, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "This is a really major increase, and it worries me that these drugs are being prescribed in a way that they shouldn't be.


"I really hoped that the bad old days – where a widow would be given Valium to cope with her grief – were over, but these figures are very high, and suggest that the drug is still being prescribed in ways it should not be."


In some cases, benzodiazepines are given to patients trying to wean themselves off other addictions, such as alcohol, or illegal drugs, to stop major epileptic seizures, and to provide pain or sedation in hospitals, said Dr Byrne, a psychiatrist at Newham University Hospital, in East London.


Alison Cobb, from the mental health charity Mind, said the number of people suffering from anxiety appeared to have increased during the recession.


The charity's research found one in seven men suffered from depression within six months of losing their job, while many more felt anxious about job insecurity, and debts.


She said: "We have found that the recession had a particularly marked effect on men, especially in terms of job losses, and the ability to cope with the loss of status."


Some GPs felt they had no option but to prescribe drugs because waiting times for counselling and psychotherapy were so long, she said.


Jim Dobbin, chairman of the House of Commons all-party group on Involuntary Tranquilizer Addiction, said: "I am really disappointed that there has been an increase in the prescribing of Valium.


"All the medical profession are doing is creating higher addiction levels. The consequences are dire – people have their lives ruined by these drugs."


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OMG, if the people now taking the meds only knew what they were getting themselves into. I think with every prescription they write, they should add an insert with a link to this BB.  :idiot::tickedoff: :tickedoff: :tickedoff::-[:sick:
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