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Rescheduling of benzodiazepines

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The AMA has successfully headed off moves to make all benzodiazepines controlled drugs, which would have added significantly to the administrative burden on GPs and hospital staff.

Under current rules, benzodiazepines are listed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration as Schedule 4 medicines, meaning they can only be obtained through prescription.

But the TGA announced last year that it was considering a proposal to reclassify all benzodiazepines from Schedule 4 to Schedule 8, making them controlled drugs and effectively prohibiting most GPs from being able to prescribe them without specific authority.

In a submission to the TGA’s Advisory Committee on Medicines Scheduling, the AMA urged the medicines watchdog to carefully weigh the balance between the desire to limit the potential for abuse of these drugs on the one hand, and the imperative that they be readily available when clinical need was urgent, such as in hospitals.

The Association said, while benzodiazepines were at risk of abuse, there were currently a range of controls in place, including electronic tracking of dispensing, patient and medical practitioner education, audits of prescribing, and prosecutions.

In addition, the AMA argued, moving all benzodiazepines to Schedule 8 would create significant additional administrative burden for both hospital staff and general practitioners.

After reviewing this and other submissions, the TGA has decided that only the benzodiazepine medicine alprazolam will be rescheduled from Schedule 4 to Schedule 8.

The scheduling of all other benzodiazepines will remain unchanged.

In a statement, the regulator said it had decided to reschedule alprazolam for several reasons, including the fact that overdoses of the drug resulted in increased morbidity and mortality, there had been rapid growth in its use, and evidence was mounting of widespread misuse.

Alprazolam will be reclassified as a Schedule 8 drug from 1 February 2014.

AR

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