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Benzodiazepines used with caution in primary care

Addiction

Addiction

A qualitative study of GPs practising in the North-west of England has looked at their views on benzodiazepine prescribing.

Twenty-two GPs underwent semi-structured interviews. The group included men and women, and both experienced GPs (five of the respondents were GPs during the 1980s benzodiazepine prescribing boom) and younger GPs.

Interviews were designed to explore GPs' attitudes towards the management of anxiety and the prescribing of benzodiazepines. The interviews were recorded and responses were subdivided into themes developed and agreed by the team of five researchers.

The survey found that GPs emphasised caution, vigilance and regulation when it came to benzodiazepine prescribing. The GPs were concerned to minimise the use of benzodiazepines and the risks attached.

The GPs interviewed would typically prescribe benzodiazepines for very short courses to aid the management of acute anxiety, or use them in the terminal setting. Many of the GPs would specifically avoid prescribing benzodiazepines to those dependent on alcohol or illicit drugs.

There can be little doubt that benzodiazepines were overprescribed in the past. This qualitative survey of a cohort of GPs shows a more cautious approach to benzodiazepine prescribing, with restricted indications for use. However, for most GPs benzodiazepines remain a useful tool for the right patient in the right circumstances.

Rogers A, Pilgrim D, Brennan S et al. Prescribing benzodiazepines in general practice: a new view of an old problem Health 2007;11:181-198

author Reviewer

Dr Jez Thompson
Former GP, Clinical Director, Leeds Community Drug Services

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