New online benzodiazepine hub hopes to reduce harms

Anna Samecki

30/05/2022 4:51:24 PM

The resources provide guidance and support for the management of benzodiazepine dependence and misuse in primary care.

Benzodiazepines are one of the most misused classes of prescription drugs in Australia.

NPS MedicineWise has partnered with Reconnexion to offer a suite of benzodiazepine harm reduction resources for health professionals and consumers.
While commonly prescribed across a variety of healthcare settings, the drugs also possess the real threat of causing damage to people taking them – especially if they are prescribed over an extended period.
‘We know that the long-term use of benzodiazepines is associated with a number of harms including dependence,’ NPS MedicineWise medical advisor, Dr Caroline West, told newsGP.
‘The evidence also shows that the risk of dependence increases significantly beyond four weeks of use.’
One of the most misused classes of prescription drugs in Australia, benzodiazepines are also the most common drug class implicated in overdose incidents and in drug-related suicide attempts.
They represent approximately 50–67% of drug-related deaths nationwide, either in motor vehicle accidents where they are the most prevalent prescription drug, or in combination with other central nervous system depressants such as opiates and alcohol.
However, the medication continues to be prescribed for a range of conditions including anxiety, sleep and panic disorders and often as first-line agents.
‘Although commonly prescribed for anxiety and sleep, especially in the elderly, benzodiazepines are not the recommended first-line treatment option in those conditions,’ Dr West said.
‘All effort should be made to trial first-line options where appropriate, including non-pharmacological strategies, before benzodiazepines are considered.
‘If prescribed, they should be used as part of a broader management strategy which includes a plan for review and reduction, and duration should be limited to the shortest possible period to avoid the risk of dependence and misuse.’
The new online information hub features a number of key resources to help health professionals and consumers reduce benzodiazepine use, including:

A number of practical steps are also provided.
Among them are recommendations to use benzodiazepines only for appropriate indications, limiting use to 2–4 weeks, assessing efficacy at one week, only prescribing to well known patients, seeking specialist advice before prescribing benzodiazepines for panic disorder, carefully weighing up the risks and benefits, and identifying patients taking large doses early.
‘We have a number of resources available for GPs which can be used both inside and outside of consultations,’ Dr West said.
‘The patient-focused benzodiazepine reduction plan for example can be used with patients ready to reduce their benzodiazepine use at the point of care.
‘Our main aim with these resources is to encourage a two-way conversation that recognises the importance of including the patient in treatment decisions, which in turn can increase the likelihood of successful reduction.’
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Benzodiazepines dependence misuse

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