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Review Of Sleeping Pill Urgently Required

20 May 2002

Review Of Sleeping Pill Urgently Required - Greens

Green Health Spokesperson Sue Kedgley today called for a review of the sleeping pill Halcion to see whether it should be withdrawn from the market, as it has been in other countries.

Ms Kedgley said a review of benzodiazepines - a highly addictive class of psychotropic or mind altering drug - was urgently needed in light of the tragic case of an elderly man who almost killed his wife under the influence of a large dose of Halcion.

"Urgent measures are needed to crack down on the use and prescribing of Halcion and other benzodiazepine drugs, and consideration given as to whether these drugs should be reclassified and more tightly controlled.

"It is almost unbelievable that despite the addictive nature and serious side effects of Halcion, it remains the third most prescribed sleeping pill in New Zealand," she said.

The prescribing information for Halcion states clearly that it should only be used for 'severe and disabling insomnia' and should not be given for more than seven to 10 consecutive days. If used for more than two to three consecutive weeks, the prescribing data says there should be a 'complete re-evaluation of the patient.'

Ms Kedgley said doctors have an obligation, under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights, to discuss the risks of Halcion and other benzodazepines, with their patients.

"None of these things appear to have happened in the case of the elderly patient who almost killed his wife. This man had been prescribed extraordinarily high doses of Halcion for nine weeks, in contravention of the prescribing information for the drug."

Ms Kedgley said the Ministry of Health needed to take a much more proactive stance on benzodiazepines. Its present response, of sending guidelines to practitioners 'encouraging limitation to short-term use only,' was woefully inadequate.

Ms Kedgley said doctors had an obligation, under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights, to discuss the risks of this class of drug with patients, but it appeared they were not all doing so.


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