New service to tackle opiate and benzodiazepine dependency

15 November meeting of Islington health and care scrutiny committee. Photograph: Islington Citizen.

A new support programme for people who are dependent on opioids and benzodiazepines is to be launched Better Lives, Islington’s drug and alcohol service.

The service, provided by Camden & Islington NHS Foundation Trust (C&I) in partnership with charities WDP and Blenheim, will support people in reviewing their medication and work with those who would like to reduce their reliance on it.

According to C&I, benzodiazepine dependence is a common problem across the UK due to an increase in prescriptions by doctors, as well as illicit purchasing of the drugs on the street and via the internet.

Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can incur severe symptoms, including confusion, hallucinations and epileptic fits.

Peter Kane, senior manager at C&I, said: “We’ve been working very successfully in Camden with people who are on long-term prescriptions for benzodiazepines, managing to help detoxify twenty to thirty people with long-term dependencies.

“This is a type of medication that you have to do very slowly, because the withdrawal symptoms are much worse than coming off opiates. But we have very skilled clinicians doing that type of work.

“The new service will address people using those as well as opiates like painkillers when people have been recovering from operations like back problems and have stayed on the medication. It’s kind of a judgement whether they’re addicted now or if they’re needed for pain, so we’ll be addressing big groups of those people.”

Senior commissioning manager Emma Stubbs added: “The take-up is potentially huge. Initially we’re focusing on two practices here in Islington. It’s a model that C&I have been working on in Camden already.

“We’ll be relationship building with local pain specialists as well, who encounter groups who they feel have a dependency but don’t necessarily know where to send them for help. Those are the people who might not want to walk through the door of one of our many service sites.”

They are often prescribed for short-term treatment of mental health disorders such as insomnia, anxiety and panic disorders.

Over half of people who misuse the drugs got them from prescription, with 40 per cent of people developing a benzodiazepine dependence if taking them every day for six weeks or more.