Wake up call on overuse of sleeping pills

By Teuila Fuatai

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More than 13,000 sleeping pill prescriptions were issued in Wanganui last year - too many, according to a local counsellor.

Aladdin Jones, who works at Whanganui UCOL, says the drugs are over-prescribed.

Figures from Government drug-buying agency Pharmac show 13,400 sleeping medication prescriptions were handed out in the Wanganui District Health Board region in the past financial year.

"I try to avoid medication as much as possible in terms of advising people [to take it]," Mr Jones said.

"One of the things that I really encourage people to do is to just stop throughout the day and take a few breaths.

"So by the end of the day they're basically less stressed."

Nationally, nearly 680,000 sleeping pill prescriptions were doled out in the year to June 30.

In Hawke's Bay, 28,650 prescriptions were issued. There were 36,780 in the Bay of Plenty.

Mr Jones said stress was a major cause of sleeplessness.

"Reducing stimulants like coffee, TV, computers at least an hour before going to sleep [will help]."

Regular exercise and relaxation techniques like meditation were also advisable, he said.

Tranx - an alcohol and drug addiction service which deals specifically with sleeping-medication dependency - says New Zealand's high prescription numbers are concerning.

Whilst Pharmac figures show prescription numbers are similar to those five years ago (680,950 in 2007/08), data recording methods and restrictions around prescribing medication have since changed - masking the actual increase.

Tranx manager Shaz Picard said long-term use of sleeping pills was risky.

"If somebody's using it on a daily basis, there's more chance of them becoming addicted.

"We learn how to sleep, and if you're taking a drug that gives you a black-out, knock-out, zonk of a sleep, then after six months or so your body doesn't know how to go to sleep because [the drugs] make it go to sleep."

However, if sleeping medication was used appropriately, it could provide a huge amount of relief for those suffering insomnia or stress, Ms Picard said.

"Anybody knows if you don't get any sleep, you can become quite psychotic after a while because humans have to sleep."

People who were also suffering from tremendous grief and unable to sleep might also benefit from sleep medication, she said.

"But what happens is people get on the gravy train and they're still taking them [long after the event]."

Stress, anxiety and being strung-out could all cause insomnia, Ms Picard said.

Whilst sleeping pills provided a "quick-fix", people had to deal with their underlying issues if they were to tackle sleeplessness, she said.

Pharmac medical director Dr Peter Moodie said a steady increase in prescription figures for all medications including sleeping tablets, was expected each year.

"There has been a growth, and it's a growth that we watch, and we haven't had alarm bells ringing."

Population growth, greater access to healthcare services and better data collection had all contributed to to higher prescription numbers, Dr Moodie said.

Side-effects of sleeping medication included dullness and the risk of dependency.

These could be worse in elderly patients, he said.

"They don't excrete them [sleeping medication] so well and the dose can become cumulative and so can contribute to falls." APNZ

- Wanganui Chronicle

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