GPs welcome Medical Council warning on benzodiazepines



A warning from the Medical Council about the overprescribing of anxiety and sleeping medicines, has been welcomed by GPs.

Dr Tom O’Dowd, former professor of general practice at Trinity College said the warning will help GPs to explain the dangers to patients demanding repeat prescriptions.

“We will be able to say to patients, look this gets you in trouble and it gets me in trouble, it could put a restriction on my licence to prescribe,” he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

The Medical Council has warned doctors they could face an investigation if found over prescribing certain medications in particular benzodiazepines, which are used to treat severe anxiety or sleeping problems.

The Medical Council said that with its dual role of protecting patients and supporting doctors, it took a serious view of overprescribing of benzodiazepines, Z-drugs and Pregabalin.

“This is a big issue for GPs and we have been calling for help for a long time,” Dr O’Dowd said.

“Every clinic I have there are three to four patients who want more (benzodiazepines). I’m very conflicted as they’re quite dependant on them.

“Most GPs are in a bind as they’re very effective in the short term. But that state expires after six week and they want more to keep that feeling.”

Medical Council president Rita Doyle said the impact of inappropriate prescribing of benzodiazepines, Z-drugs, Pregabalin and other controlled drugs is “having a significant impact on patient safety and wellbeing”.

Dr O’Dowd warned that depression is a very complex illness as is its treatment. While benzodiazepines are very effective in the short term some patients develop a tolerance for the drug and there are “vast differences” in the way people metabolise the drug, he said.

“If a patient becomes dependant on them and starts asking for benzos when the doctor is not willing to prescribe, that is difficult.

“When the repeat benzos are not available that induces a feeling of panic.

“I think the warning is helpful.”

Impact

Medical Council president Rita Doyle said the impact of inappropriate prescribing of benzodiazepines, Z-drugs, Pregabalin and other controlled drugs is “having a significant impact on patient safety and wellbeing”.

The council said benzodiazepines were a group of medicines that could 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 when a patient develops an overreliance or a dependency on these drugs,” it said.

Dr Doyle said: “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. Patients who become dependent upon benzodiazepines should be referred to the appropriate drug treatment services and provided with appropriate supports . . . 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.”



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