The big sleep: Canada’s dangerous love affair with tranquillizers (sleeping pills)

From — Public angst over the abuse of painkillers is overshadowing what Canadian researchers say is an even more pressing problem: the nation’s growing love affair with sleeping pills.

The number of prescriptions dispensed for benzodiazepines (a group of sedative and relaxant drugs) and other sedatives jumped to more than 20 million in 2011, from 16.4 million in 2006, according to market research firm IMS Brogan.

Use of one drug alone — zopiclone, one of the so-called “Z” drugs — nearly doubled over the same period, from 2.9 million prescriptions, to five million in 2011.

Prescriptions are mounting as new and controversial research from Canada and the U.S. is tying sleeping pills to an elevated risk of an early death.

The drugs are intended for occasional, short-term use only, but observers say it’s not uncommon for doctors to hand over prescriptions for a month’s supply, with six or 12 repeats, increasing the risk of dependence and, in the case of benzodiazepines, potentially “horrendous” withdrawal.

“People who start these drugs need to know that you could end up in a long-term medical adventure,” said Canadian drug policy researcher Alan Cassels.
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