More hooked on sleeping pills

MARYKE PENMAN
Last updated 05:00 05/12/2013
TRANX
BUSTING BENZOS: TRANX drug and alcohol service just celebrated its 25 year anniversary. Pictured are chief executive Shaz Picard, left, and clinician Raksha Rughani

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The number of people falling into the grip of common prescription drugs is alarming, says addiction service TRANX chief executive Shaz Picard.

TRANX is a non-profit organisation contracted by the Auckland DHB to provide free drug and alcohol treatment to residents of metropolitan Auckland.

It is the only service to specialise in weaning people off common sleeping medications such as benzodiazepines (benzos) and zopiclones.

The TRANX satellite clinic in Mairangi Bay treats a growing client base of around 12 people.

Ms Picard says benzos and zopiclones are intended for short term use, but prescriptions are being dished out for dangerously long periods.

"We had one woman come to us who had been on benzos for 40 years."

The NZ Drug Foundation strongly advises against the use of benzos for any longer than one month.

Both benzos and zopiclones are among the top 20 most prescribed drugs in New Zealand , according to Pharmac.

Up to two million benzodiazepine prescriptions are handed out each year in New Zealand.

"Our world has sped up. We do everything faster and people want the magic pill so they can get on with their lives.

"We are not anti-benzos when they are prescribed properly," Ms Picard says.

The danger of long term benzo use is that the drug can begin to cause the very symptoms it has been prescribed to relieve, the NZ Drug Foundation says.

TRANX is tasked with returning peoples' quality of life, Ms Picard says.

"The goal is not always abstinence. It's about getting people to a point where they can get on with living their lives, they can look after the kids and hold down a job.

"We've worked with people in their 90s addicted to benzos. At that age it's not always in their best interests to go cold turkey."

Benzodiazepines are a Class C controlled drug.

According to the latest Drug Use in New Zealand Survey around 57,200 New Zealanders have used prescription sedatives for recreational purposes at some point in their lifetime.

Benzos are often used to "come down" off other substances.

"It is very rare for us to see someone with just one substance addiction. We've had people using P and then using benzos to come down off P," Ms Picard says.

TRANX takes a three-pronged approach to rehabilitation, involving the client, the clinician and the prescriber.

Go to tranx.org.nz for more information or call 378 1173.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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