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Volume 405: debated on Thursday 15 May 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Committee on the Safety of Medicines 1988 Guidelines that benzodiazepines should not be prescribed for longer than four weeks; [113170](2) what assessment he has made of the scale of benzodiazepine addiction; [113172](3) what plans he has to improve the provision of treatment for benzodiazepine addicts. [113173]

The Department is concerned to prevent benzodiazepine dependence as well as to ensure treatment is available for those who have developed such dependence in both primary and secondary mental health care settings as well as within specialist drug misuse services.A range of talking therapies, such as anxiety management, which often includes reduction or cessation of tranquillisers, are available in the national health service, provided by clinical psychology departments, via day hospitals or community mental health teams.Improvements to the provision of such services are being carried out as part of the wide-ranging mental health modernisation programme. Supported by additional investment of over Ā£300 million by 2004, national service framework for mental health (1999) provides in detail targets and milestones for the improvement of mental health services in primary and secondary care.There has been a steady decline in prescriptions for benzodiazepines from 23.9 million in 1980 to 13.0 million in 2001. This is in line with the Committee on the Safety of Medicines' 1988 advice which has been reiterated in the "Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Benzodiazepine Dependence" (Mental Health Foundation, 1994), "Drug Misuse and Dependenceā€”Guidelines on Clinical Management" (Department of Health, 1999) and the "British National Formulary" (biannual, British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain), all of which has been distributed to every doctor in England free of charge.Information on the scale of the benzodiazepine addiction is not collected centrally.