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Hundreds of thousands more women than men prescribed powerful anti-anxiety drugs ‘harder to come off than heroin’

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Hundreds of thousands more women than men have been prescribed powerful anti-anxiety drugs which experts warn are harder to come off than heroin, The Independent can reveal.

New information obtained under freedom of information (FOI) laws shows women in England were 59% more likely to be prescribed benzodiazepines – better known by the brand names of Valium, Xanax and Temazapam – than men between January 2017 and December 2021.

Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for anxiety and insomnia, with the drug’s withdrawal symptoms including depression, acute anxiety, insomnia, vivid nightmares, headaches, vomiting, shakes, cramps and, in the worst cases, seizures which can cause death.

Many countries explicitly state benzodiazepines should not be taken for more than four weeks, while research has found benzodiazepines can cause memory loss and Alzheimer’s.

In September 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration announced its “black box warning” must be placed on all benzodiazepines to inform patients withdrawal from the drugs can be life-threatening.

Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, a leading UK mental health charity, told The Independent it was difficult to “know the exact reasons behind why women are more likely to be prescribed benzodiazepines than men” but said the FOI “findings support others which show gender discrepancies in prescribing have been occurring for a long time”.

“Previous research in some parts of the world has found that male prescribers were more likely to prescribe benzodiazepines to female patients than male patients. Research into the reasons behind gender differences in prescribing psychiatric medication is important.”

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Source: The Independent, 3 October 2022

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