Alarming increase in the use of prescribed drugs

A recent survey by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) has found that there has been an unprecedented increase in the uses of tranquillisers and sedatives nationally in the last five years and a prominent Donegal doctor has said that the position is exactly the same in this county.

A recent survey by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) has found that there has been an unprecedented increase in the uses of tranquillisers and sedatives nationally in the last five years and a prominent Donegal doctor has said that the position is exactly the same in this county.

The survey broke the usage down into various groups within society and found that the use of tranquillisers and sedatives is highest among professionals, senior management, top civil servants and people who are dependant on the state. The

Survey also found women were more likely than men to take tranquillisers, sedatives or anti-depressants.

Sedatives and tranquillisers, used to calm the brain and central nervous system, include benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Librium Anti-depressants treat conditions such as low mood and include drugs such as Lexapro and Prozac.

The survey found 14 per cent of adults in Ireland had used sedatives or tranquillisers during their lifetime and 10 per cent had used anti-depressants. Some 7 per cent said they used sedatives and tranquillisers in the last year compared to 5 per cent in a previous report in 2007, a 40 per cent increase.

Speaking to the Donegal Democrat, prominent Letterkenny doctor, Dr. James McDaid said that the problem was exactly the same in every town and village in the county.

“More and more people are asking for them on a daily basis and the HSE are trying to keep us to a minimal level of prescribing. I agree with this but at the same time we have a duty of care to our patients many of whom could be in quite an agitated state. These people need counselling but we have nowhere to send them.

“The old BT advt. used to say ‘Its good to talk’ and it is, but there are very few people to talk to.”

Commenting on the statistic that 18 per cent of professionals reported use of sedatives in their lifetime while the figure was 19 per cent for those on social welfare payments he said, “That is to be expected in the present climate - with austerity and many people feeling there is no way out they are just using medication as a coping mechanism.

“If a patient in an agitated state presents themselves to me I have to exercise my duty of care and if I feel that the patient is in an extremely anxious state, I will prescribe if even on a daily basis.

“There is also a situation where ‘medical necessity’ comes into play. If for example I end up treating a psychopath, a person who has been in jail and may be a danger either to themselves or society, I may have to keep that person on long term medication but this is for the common good.

“Our biggest problem today is the lack of counselling - I see at least three people everyday who need to talk but the services just cannot cope.”

Fr. James Sweeney an addiction counsellor at Tabor House in Donegal Town said, “ This report tells us nothing that we didn’t know in advance - as one working at the coalface, I can see it every day. There are now more people affected by abuse of prescribed medication and even over the counter medication like cough mixtures and codeine based medicines. It is practically impossible to detect - it is not like someone consuming a large amount of alcohol where the effects are evident, this is highly secretive but equally as dangerous .This is a problem that is growing at an alarming level.”

Stephen McLaughlin of the White Oaks Rehabilitation Centre added. “Anecdotally,there is some evidence of prescription drugs being accessed online and together with other forms of ‘black market’ availability, this creates the potential for misuse leading to the possibility of addiction. Many instances are seen as a coping mechanism for current life difficulties.

Local services, either in the statutory or voluntary sectors, are available for anyone experiencing difficulties in this area.