The prescription of sleeping pills and tranquillisers should be reduced and carefully monitored by healthcare staff because of the dangers of addiction and dependency, a group of health professionals claim.
The alliance, which includes the RCGP, the Department of Health and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, is calling on doctors to prescribe drugs like the benzodiazepine Valium only under very particular circumstances, The Times said.
In a statement it asks that doctors and patients agree on the length of a course of sleeping pills or tranquillisers, and that such use should be reviewed regularly.
It also demands that patients be made aware of the possible harm caused by long-term use, and calls for greater support for people when they stop using medication to combat the risk of prolonged withdrawal symptoms.
The group, which also includes the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, believes the same level of care should also be applied to people taking painkillers that can be bought without a prescription.
Professor Clare Gerada, chairman of the RCGP, said: “Medicines such as tranquillisers do work for many patients but they need to fully understand the risks.”
There has been criticism at the lack of support in the community for people addicted to tranquillisers, The Times said.
According to the newspaper, a survey of NHS primary care trusts by MPs found most provided no specialist support for addicts, leaving them reliant on services for users of illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine.
Almost 18 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines and Z-drugs, tranquillisers with similar long-term effects, are written every year, The Times said.
Up to one million people use such medication regularly, despite guidelines from NICE that benzodiazepines should be used for no more than four weeks.