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Benzodiazepines & Z-drugs

Today I raised in the Dáil the ongoing issue of the over-prescribing and street-trading of Benzodiazepines. (Copy of speech below)


In my remarks I made the following key points:

  • It has been three years since a review of the use of Benzodiasepines and z-drugs was initiated in the Department of Health.


  • New controls were to be introduced via new regulations under the Misuse of Drugs Act by January 2013. These included:


  • New import and export controls
  • New possession offences
  • Stricter prescribing and dispensing requirements


  • Latest Dáil replies suggest these might not now be available until well into next year. This has been the standard reply for two years.


  • Meanwhile, there is a huge problem of street-trading of prescription drugs in Dublin City Centre; and it is a huge source of anti-social activity in the area. Indeed, street-trading occurs on Hawkins Street itself, under the very nose of the Minister and his Department.


  • Often the hands of the Garda are tied because the inadequate legislation on possession of these drugs makes it very difficult to pursue cases.



Dáil speech on Benzodiazepines


I don’t need to tell the Minister that we have very serious problems in Ireland with substance misuse. The number one problem is with alcohol; And all the evidence points to the number two problem being the misuse of prescription drugs – in particular, Benzodiazepines and Z-drugs.


Vast quantities of prescription drugs are available on our streets. We have all seen the effect of that in Dublin City Centre, in particular, and the serious anti-social activity that goes with it. The street-trading and related activity is very intimidating for the public. It undermines the efforts of health professionals to find a long-term path out of addiction for users. And it is damaging to businesses and tourism.


There are two principal sources for these prescription drugs – one is the over-prescribing of these drugs in our health system and the other is uncontrolled imports. The current law is very weak in both respects.


Obviously, benzodiazepines have a very important role to play in respect of mental health issues. But the figures show that by European standards we have much higher than average prescribing rates. When it comes to imports, in many respects the hands of the Gardaí and Customs are tied by inadequate legislation.


Almost three years ago, when I worked as Minister of State in the Department of Health, I initiated a renewed focus on the problem of the over-use of Benzodiazepines and z-drugs.


A number of measures were initiated including a project where the PCRS tracked the prescribing patterns of GPs and there was an intervention with those GPs where the prescribing pattern was particularly out of kilter with the rest of the GP population.


A review of the regulations under the Misuse of Drugs Act was initiated and provided for several measures to help curtail the availability of these drugs on our streets. These measures included


  • New import and export controls
  • New Possession offences
  • Stricter prescribing and dispensing requirements


The Department conducted consultations with interest groups in the summer of 2012 and took on board any issues raised. The Department amended their plans to reflect these. A preliminary draft of the regulations was shown to me before I left office. However, for some reason it took another entire year for a draft set of regulations to be published on the Department’s website.


Over two years ago, the projected time-frame for the completion of the new regulations was by the following January. Now two years later the time-frame again, based on pq replies, is still next January.


It is not clear to me what exactly is holding up the regulations at this stage. The unit dealing with this legislation in the Department of Health was among the best in that Department so I can’t believe the fault lies there. And other senior officials should be well aware of the problem because it is not unknown for these prescription drugs to be traded right outside the Department’s front door on Hawkins Street.


This is a serious drug problem that can be effectively dealt with. The Government is now two years late with the necessary legislation and it’s time this was made a priority in the Department of Health.