New research into the misuse of drugs in the region has found that almost 14% of people in the south east (or 1 in 7) have taken sedatives or tranquilisers, with over 10% having used anti-depressants, at some stage in their lives. The findings point to the over-prescribing of benodiazepines (BZDs), particularly to women, opiate dependents and holders of medical cards.

A report by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) has identified a worrying dependence on minor tranquilisers and sedatives in the south east region. Some 89% of current users got their sedatives or tranquillisers on prescription from the chemist, though 11% of those using prescription medicines obtained them without a prescription.

The NACD’s recently released ‘Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland 2006/2007 Drug Prevalence Survey: Sedatives or Tranquillisers, and Anti-depressants Results’ indicates that long term State dependence, not being in paid work and lower levels of educational attainment are linked with higher prevalence rates. However professionals, senior managers and top civil servants also have a notably high consumption rate.

Figures for the South East Regional Drugs Task Force (SERDTF) area are amongst the highest in the Republic of Ireland, with 4.1% of the population using sedatives or tranquilisers in the past month, 5.6% in the past year and 13.3% in their life time. Meanwhile over one in ten people in the region have used anti-depressants in their life time, almost 4% of them in the past year. The SERDTF covers Waterford, South Tipperary, Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford.

The NACD’s bulletin examines age of first use, frequency of use, method of taking them, how they were obtained and the profile of typical sedative or tranquilliser, and anti-depressant users. The report also found that females are more likely than males to have ever used sedatives, tranquillisers and antidepressants with 6% of females reporting use in the last year as compared to 4% for males and lifetime use reported at an average of 13% for females compared to 8% for males. Prevalence rates were higher among older respondents – the lifetime prevalence rate for older adults aged 35-64 was more than twice that of young adults aged 15-34 for sedatives or tranquillisers and was also higher for those using anti-depressants. A little more than half of current users of sedatives or tranquillisers, and nine-in-ten current users of antidepressants, took them daily or almost daily.

This is the second Drugs Prevalence Survey, following that commissioned in 2002/3 by the NACD in Ireland and the Public Health Information and Research Branch (PHIRB) in Northern Ireland.  Commenting on the figures, NACD Chairperson, Dr Des Corrigan stated that the report found associations between gender and various indicators of deprivation and higher prevalence rates.

The NACD recommends that these findings be discussed with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland as the pharmacy regulator and that the overall findings in the Bulletin are brought to the attention of the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) as the competent authority for Medicinal Products in Ireland.