Over-prescription of anti-anxiety drugs heralding increase in medical negligence claims


Prescription DrugsUse of benzodiazepine drugs with adverse effects over the long term is creating circumstances whereby more claims for medical negligence could be made against over-prescription.

Benzodiazepine (known colloquially as 'benzo' and abbreviated as 'BZD') is a family of psychoactive drugs. Used in the body its variants enhance the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), thus acting as a sedative, an anti-convulsant and a muscle relaxant with anti-anxiety properties.

Such properties make benzodiazepine helpful in treating anxiety, insomnia, agitation, seizures, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal and as pre-medication for surgical procedures.

The benzodiazepine family includes such variants as temazepam (which has become the UK's most frequently abused prescription drug); diazepam (better known as Valium) and clonazepam, which is widely prescribed to people with spinal injury in order to ease neurological pain and spasms.

While cognitive impairments and paradoxical effects such as aggression are sometimes reported, benzodiazepines are considered generally safe and effective when used in the short term.

Over longer periods, however, persistent use of benzodiazepines has led to concerns about adverse psychological and physical effects, raising the spectre of more claims for medical negligence against physicians who over-prescribe the drugs.

Users of clonazepam, for example, have found the drug helpful in fighting spasms which would otherwise keep them constantly awake at night. It quickly reduces anxiety, quells panic symptoms and enables its users to drift swiftly into sleep.

However, any drug which works straight away is also likely to be highly addictive. It is estimated that as many as 33% of people who use clonazepam for longer than 4 weeks can develop a dependence.

Withdrawal symptoms experienced under such circumstances include anxiety, aggressiveness, irritability and even hallucinations and episodes of psychosis.

Older people run an increased risk of suffering from both short- and long-term adverse effects. There is also particular controversy surrounding pregnant women's safety when using benzodiazepines, which may have caused babies to be born with cleft palates and even withdrawal symptoms of their own.

Overdosing on benzodiazepines can lead to dangerously deep unconsciousness. Although they are less toxic than barbiturates, their clinical predecessors, and death rarely occurs when a benzodiazepine is taken alone, the potential for toxicity rises when the drug is combined with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol and opiates.

Given the known facts, it is clearly wise to be absolutely certain that any symptoms you might be experiencing, from spinal cord injury to anxiety, genuinely warrant the use of benzodiazepine variants. Failing this, medical negligence claims against over-subscription can only increase.

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