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Toxicologists warn about online access to sleeping pills

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The prescription-only sleeping tablet zopiclone, which can become addictive if used for more than a few weeks, is easily available online, experts from a London hospital have warned.

Members of the clinical toxicology unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust said regulators must take measures to ensure such websites complied with medicines and other regulations for the supply of zopiclone.

“Z drugs” can be prescribed for short periods to ease symptoms of insomnia, but are not normally prescribed for more than two to four weeks because of concerns about dependence and addiction.

Their use has recently increased, noted the study authors in the British Medical Journal. In 2013-14, zopiclone was the sixth most common drug among enquiries to the UK National Poisons Information Service’s online database, TOXBASE.

“They provide access for vulnerable people who may buy it for self-poisoning, suicide, or misuse”

Study authors

They cited the example of a recently-managed patient whose overdose of 100 tablets of 7.5mg zopiclone, reportedly purchased from an internet site without prescription, to highlight the problem.

To investigate the availability of zopiclone, they identified 37 websites selling zopiclone tablets in quantities of up to 2,000. Thirty five also sold similar drugs and 15 offered bulk purchase discounts.

Most, 24, provided information and/or warnings about dosage, but 22 clearly stated that no prescription was necessary for purchase, while 14 made no mention of this at all. Only one website stated that a prescription was needed.

The study authors said: “Not only do these websites bypass necessary oversight required for supply, they provide access for vulnerable people who may buy it for self-poisoning, suicide, or misuse,” they argue.

“Regulatory authorities need to ensure that appropriate measures are taken so that these websites comply with medicines and other regulations for the supply of this prescription only medicine,” they added.

In 2014, zopiclone was controlled in the UK as Class C, schedule IV part 1 drug, owing to concerns about dependence and potential for misuse.


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