Over one million tranquiliser items have been prescribed to people in the Western Trust area over a seven year period, the Derry Journal can reveal.
Newly obtained figures show that despite a raft of measures aimed at weaning people off anti-depressants and other benzodiazepine drugs, the number of scripts being issued has remained stubbornly high.
In the year from April 2007 to March 2008,there were 144,687 benzodiazepines perscribed across Derry, Limavady, Strabane and the rest of the Western Trust area.
This had jumped by a significant margin to 154,733 by 2011/12 before falling back to around 150,000 in 2012/13.
From April 2013 to January this year the figure stood at 116,303 prescription items, with health authorities predicting last year’s downward trend will continue.
The Western Trust have told the Journal they are preparing a two-year pilot project to tackle the particularly ‘high prescribing practices’ identified locally in conjunction with the Public Health Agency and the Health and Social Care Board.
There are also now concerns however that some people are selling on the drugs from their GP to young people looking for a cheap high.
Meanwhile Sadie O’Reilly, founder of Derry drug awareness and therapy charity HURT (Have Your Tomorrows), said that there was anecdotal evidence that some people in Derry were selling on tablets such as Diazepam and Temazepam for a few pound each.
“People that are doing it are putting other people’s lives in danger by getting them into drugs,” Ms O’Reilly said.
“These are serious drugs. People need to be aware that that if they are offered these drugs they do not know what they are or how they will react to them- everybody reacts differently to different drugs. You could take a rash, have a fit.”
As well as the new pilot project later this year revealed by the Western Trust, a spokeswoman for the HSCB said they were monitoring prescription activity, with their Medicines Management Advisers visiting GP surgeries and other healthcare facilities to address prescribing of antidepressants, anxiolytics and opioid analgesics.
“GP practices with the highest prescribing rates (top 30%) are encouraged to reduce their usage of these drugs as appropriate,” she added, adding: “Reducing benzodiazepine prescribing can be a difficult area to tackle in primary care and this resource pack provides tools and information that can assist healthcare professionals in helping their patients to reduce or discontinue benzodiazepines.”