HL Deb 26 February 1988 vol 493 cc1417-8
Lord Blyth

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to discourage the long-term use of benzodiazepines.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the British National Formulary, which we send to all doctors, has for a number of years advised that benzodiazepines should be given only for short periods because of the danger of patients becoming dependent on the drug. The Committee on Review of Medicines published guidelines warning about dependency in 1980, and the Committee on Safety of Medicines reinforced this advice last month in a mailing to all doctors advising use of benzodiazepines for two to four weeks only and only for severe anxiety or insomnia.

Lord Blyth

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply. Is he satisfied that the so-called next generation of tranquilisers —said to be non-addictive—will be non-addictive? Can he give the House the criterion on which they are said to be non-addictive?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the dangers of addiction are well recognised. But these drugs are not dangerous if they are prescribed responsibly in accordance with the advice I detailed in my orginal reply.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, in view of the increased abuse by, or addiction of, patients and the unnecessary charge on the resources of the National Health Service caused by the widespread practice of repeat prescriptions, are the Government and the Committee on Safety of Medicines prepared to give very clear advice to GPs that they should not give repeat prescriptions? Secondly, will the noble Earl congratulate MIND on its highly successful campaign against minor tranquiliser abuse including widespread establishment of support groups by local mental health associations for those seeking to be free of addiction?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, yes. We congratulate MIND on what it has done in this respect. We and the medical profession are anxious to control the level of repeat prescribing. Many doctors recognise the need for regular review of repeat prescriptions and operate their own control systems. The health departments already monitor instances of prescribing that seem to be excessive using information from the prescription pricing authorities. Discussions with the professions are taking place on how information about repeat prescribing can be improved. This will enable doctors to exercise a greater level of control.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, is it not a fact that conditions such as insomnia can be cured or at least curbed by a number of other drugs, some not available on prescription? Is the drug in question not one which should be discouraged in any case?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, that is somewhat wide of the Question. However, GPs will be free to prescribe if they think their patients will benefit from new drugs. They are obviously free also to prescribe "benzos"—which I understand is a colloquial use of the word. They must decide what is best for an individual patient. A brand new drug, buspar/buspirone, is not related to the benzos. It is too early to say whether or not widespread use will produce dependence.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, will the Government consider printing on the packet of drugs a cautionary note to the user?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, that is for the general practitioner to advise when he recommends the dosage that the patient should take.

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