Are prescription drugs killing us?

Maya Driver

Prescription drugs have been in the headlines a lot recently, especially after the death of both Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger. It may not be just the rich and famous who are getting into trouble with prescribed medication either. A recent parliamentary inquiry has concluded that British doctors are inadvertently fuelling drug addiction.

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The report outlined how GPs are failing to take note of official guidelines and are prescribing strong tranquilisers for longer than recommended. Amongst the drugs currently under scrutiny are painkillers, sleeping tablets and anti-anxiety pills.

GPs have come under fire for not listening enough to patients and their requests for help. Too frequently it seems patients with chronic pain are being mismanaged. A patient with a genuine medical complaint may be prescribed pain killers but rather than restricting and monitoring their use family doctors are continuing to prescribe, leading to higher and higher levels of addiction.

The government blames the misuse of benzodiazepines for 17,000 deaths since first being introduced in the sixties. A recent report found that GPs prescribed 918 million drugs in 2006 compared to 721 million five years ago. Many believe this is proof that Britain has a problem with prescription drug reliance.

Drugs used to calm the effects of anxiety were particularly at fault. Research found that rather than the recommended four weeks, some patients were spending decades on these drugs.

Health experts are also concerned that the reclassification of prescription drugs to over the counter medication has given rise to serious misuse, addiction, hospitalisation and even death. The treatments that gave most concern were Solpadeine and Nurofen Plus. Advice help lines and websites have seen subscriptions soar from those who claimed to be hooked on the substances.