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New GP guide for prescribing benzodiazepines to help prevent ‘doctor shopping’

New GP guide for prescribing benzodiazepines to help prevent 'doctor shopping' - Featured Image

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has launched a new guide for GPs to follow when prescribing benzodiazepines.

Nearly 7 million prescriptions for these drugs are issued every year in Australia, mostly to treat anxiety and insomnia.

The most common varieties are Valium and temazepam.

RACGP President Dr Frank R Jones says their use has led to concerns about the harms associated with both authorised and unauthorised use of the drugs.

“There is significant debate in the medical community about the appropriate role and use of these drugs and this has been exacerbated by a lack of clinical guidelines in the area. The RACGP’s new guide, Prescribing drugs of dependence in general practice, Part B: Benzodiazepines is the first in Australia to comprehensively address these issues,” Dr Jones said.

Related: The sources of pharmaceuticals for problematic users of benzodiazepines and prescription opioids

The guide explains that prescribing benzodiazepines shouldn’t be the first treatment option and should be regarded as a short-term therapeutic option.

Problems associated with the use of these drugs in the short term are rare, however some patients are more vulnerable to harm than others.

“As GPs we need to be vigilant in identifying patients who may be misusing or abusing benzodiazepines because this can become a long-term and distressing problem.”

Use of these types of drugs beyond four weeks should be uncommon and should be made with a full risk-benefit analysis. There should also be careful monitoring.

The RACGP hopes the guide will help reduce patient harm associated with benzodiazepine misuse.

“Patients who have a substance use disorder may ‘doctor shop’ to gain prescriptions and increase their use and dosage. When taken in combination with other substances such as opioid medications, illicit drugs and alcohol, this can result in death,” Dr Jones warned.

Related: The benefits and harms of deprescribing