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Volume 979: debated on Wednesday 20 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) what was the annual cost to the National Health Service for the latest available year of purchasers of valium, librium and other drugs of the benzodiazepine group.(2) how many prescriptions are issued annually for valium and other benzodiazepines.

Information about prescriptions issued for individual drugs is confidential between the Department and the company concerned. However, an estimated 25·2 million prescriptions were issued for all benzodiazepine drugs in England in 1978—the latest year for which information is available—at a total estimated cost to the NHS of £28·4 million.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) when he expects the Committee on Safety of Medicines to report on valium;(2) what representations he has received about the addictive effects of valium.

I have had no formal representations, but I am aware of medical and public concern. The Committee on the Review of Medicines has considered benzodiazepines, the group of drug substances which includes diazepam, the active ingredient of valium. It has recommended general guidelines on information, including appropriate warnings for prescribing practitioners. These guidelines have been sent to the companies concerned as a first step towards revision of the details to be recorded on the data sheet for each product.The committee considered addiction potential with particular care and made the following comments:

"In general the addiction potential of benzodiazepines is low but this increases when high dosage is used and when moderate dosage is extended over long periods. This is particularly so in patients with a history of alcoholism, drug abuse or in patients with marked personality disorders.
Abrupt withdrawal following either high dosage or long-term administration may produce confusion, toxic psychosis, convulsions or a condition resembling delirium tremens".

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he has any proposals for restricting the dispensing of valium prescriptions.

Under the National Health Service Act, a doctor is free to prescribe any drug or medicine he considers necessary for the treatment of his patient, and a pharmacist is required to dispense whatever is ordered by a doctor for a patient on a properly completed prescription form. I have no proposals to change this arrangement in respect of prescriptions for valium.