33pc of drug deaths caused by 'benzos'

Alan O'Keeffe

ONE in three of all fatal drug poisonings here have been linked to common anxiety drugs, a report has revealed.

Abuse of the prescribed drug benzodiazepine is on the rise nationally and there has been a sharp rise in young people taking the sedative medication.

'Benzos' are used to treat insomnia, anxiety and seizures, but their misuse is resulting in a growing number of deaths.

Between 1998 and 2007, the drug was responsible for one-third of all deaths from drug poisoning. 'Benzo' abuse was highest in Dublin and in the southern region including counties Kerry and Cork.

Health Research Board figures revealed the annual number of cases treated for abuse of benzodiazepine rose by over 63pc, from 1,054 in 2003 to 1,719 in 2008.

Co-author of the new report, Delphine Bellerose, said the number of deaths where 'benzos' played a role did not include cases where the victim simply tested positive for the drug but "where benzodiazepine was indicated as part of the cause of death".

She reported there has been "a sharp increase in young people reporting for treatment" where benzodiazepine was the main drug.

The percentage of such cases rose from 1pc in 2003 to 18pc in 2008. The authors said their findings showed an urgent need to review clinical guidelines.

However, Ide Delargy of the Irish College of General Practitioners said the information in the report related to people who attended drug treatment services and who were already abusing multiple drugs.

The number of people reporting benzodiazepine as their main problem drug is rising, from 76 in 2003 to 167 in 2008, a 120pc increase.

The drug is considered safe for short-term use, but there is a significant risk of overuse, abuse and dependence when used for long periods.

Other substances implicated in many of the deaths included alcohol and opiates.