Long-term benzodiazepine and Z-drugs use in the UK: A survey of general practice

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Background Current British National Formulary (BNF) guidelines state that benzodiazepines and zolpidem, zopiclone, and zaleplon, commonly known as Z-drugs (BZD), be prescribed for no more than 4 weeks, although anecdotal data suggest that many patients are prescribed BZDs for much longer. As there are no recent, evidence-based estimates of long-term (>12 months) BZD use in the UK, the scale of this potential problem is unknown. Aim To produce the first reliable, evidence-based estimate of long-term BZD use in the UK. Design and setting Estimates of UK long-term BZD use were projected from data obtained from a survey conducted in 2014-2015 by the Bridge Project, a prescribed-drug withdrawal support charity in the North of England (Bradford). Method Percentages of long-term users of BZD were derived from the survey, by sampling primary care GP surgeries with around 100 000 registered patients, and these were applied to UK-wide NHS patient numbers. The data were filtered to exclude the very young and old, and those with other health issues. Results The mean percentage of registered patients prescribed BZDs for more than a year in the survey sample is 0.69% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.54 to 0.84). Applying this value to national patient numbers yields a mean projection of 296 929 (95% CI = 232 553 to 361 305) long-term users of BZD in the UK. The data also suggest that as many as 119 165 of these patients may be willing to accept prescribed drug dependency withdrawal services. Conclusion More than a quarter of a million people in the UK are likely to be taking highly dependencyforming hypnotic medication far beyond the recommended time scales. As there is evidence that long-term use of BZDs causes adverse physiological and neurological effects, and protracted withdrawal (with associated complications), this represents a serious public health problem.




Davies, J., Rae, T. C., & Montagu, L. (2017). Long-term benzodiazepine and Z-drugs use in the UK: A survey of general practice. British Journal of General Practice, 67(662), e609–e613. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp17X691865

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