The Mail claims today that Britain is addicted to sleeping pills:
Britain has become a nation of sleeping pill addicts since the start of the economic downturn, figures revealed yesterday.
Stress-related insomnia has been blamed for a sharp increase in the number of people prescribed powerful drugs to help them sleep.
The annual cost to the NHS of handing out the pills has risen by a sixth in the past three years to nearly £50 million.
According to the paper, figures obtained from health trusts under a freedom of information request reveal that in 2011 15.3 million prescriptions were handed out for sleeping pills, compared with 14.5million in 2007/8. Last year the NHS spent £49.2 million on such drugs, up from £42 million three years previously.
I’d like to know what proportion of this was spent on zopiclone, a Rhône-Poulenc drug often sold under the brand name Zimovane. Most of my friends with sleeping problems are given zopiclone, originally considered less addictive than the benzodiazepines. Well, I got addicted to it, as I describe in The Fix. It wasn’t a fun experience, at least after some initial euphoric feelings: it felt “dirtier” than Valium and certainly produced a poor quality of sleep.
Zopiclone has also become a street drug, as I describe in the book:
A report by Dr Russell Newcombe published in 2009 by the charity Lifeline revealed that ‘zimmies’ (from Zimovane) were a popular street drug in the north-east of England – sometimes in the form of 15 mg tablets not available in the UK, which suggests that they came from an internet pharmacy.
One interviewee said heavy zopiclone users ‘looked really evil’, with their bloodshot eyes, messy hair, untidy clothes, drooling mouth and drunken sailor’s gait. ‘Trying to sit down can take them half an hour – it has to be seen to be believed, if it wasn’t so sad it would be funny.’ No wonder my friends gave me a wide berth. But those were the worst cases. For regular all-night partygoers, ‘zimmies’ were something to help you come down after a night on stimulants.
I wonder if some of the NHS money is unwittingly being spent on zopiclone and other tranquillisers for the benefit of recreational users who need a post-binge downer and lie to their GPs about insomnia.
For legal reasons, I haven’t quoted the opinion of a hospital doctor who took part in the original trials of zopiclone in the 1980s and whom I talked to a few years later. Let’s just say that it was pretty harsh.
Posted in: Drugs, Pills
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