‘One in five Belgians is prescribed addictive sleeping pills’

NOS NewsSaturday, 10:11Amended Saturday, 10:56

In Belgium, 2.3 million people were prescribed addictive sleeping pills and tranquilizers last year, reports the Flemish broadcaster VRT. According to experts, it is alarming that about one in five Belgians receive so-called benzodiazepines on the advice of their GP or psychiatrist.

The VRT calls the figures a first for Belgium. Collected data shows that the use of the substances mentioned has increased among young people. They are used most by the over-65s (54 percent). Illegal purchased sleeping or sedative pills are not included.

“It is much more than you can justify from a medical perspective,” psychiatrist Stephan Claes told the broadcaster. The use of these addictive drugs is really only considered useful to patients in a limited number of situations.

Immediately make a stop plan

Benzodiazepines (also known as benzos) can have severe side effects, both in the short and long term. Use can quickly lead to addiction, with the risk of overdose. “After one week you have to talk to the patient,” says general practitioner Ellen Van Leeuwen to the VRT. According to her, it is important to immediately make a stop plan.

The figures show that more than half of the users are prescribed more than four packs. In more than one in three cases, the patient receives at least six packs of addictive tranquilizers. According to the VRT, that is a huge amount: enough to take a pill every day for six months.

According to experts, benzos can be useful for people who suffer from panic attacks, for example. They help to calm one down. Such a remedy can also help people who do not or hardly sleep to fall asleep – but in all these cases it is intended for short-term use.

Benzos include tranquilizers such as diazepam. According to the VRT, the figures also cover so-called Z-medicines, such as zolpidem. These are sleeping pills with a similar (addictive) effect.

In the Netherlands, benzos are also among the most commonly prescribed psychotropic drugs. In 2015, one in ten Dutch people used a benzodiazepine, reports the GGD.

In 2021, 1.37 million people were prescribed a benzo, reported RTL News last year. That was an increase of 1.5 percent compared to the previous year. The Netherlands Association for Addiction Medicine sees that more people are becoming dependent on the drug.

In addition to benzos and Z drugs, there are also opioids, such as morphine and oxycodone. These painkillers are much stronger and more dangerous. News hour reported in 2019 that at that time one million Dutch people were prescribed such a drug every year.

Opioid users describe how difficult it is to stop taking these drugs. “I noticed after three weeks that my body needed it every day,” this woman told NOS in 2019:

‘Everywhere you get cramps, muscle pains. It’s a struggle you have to go through

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