Objectives: The study reports on benzodiazepine use among opiate dependent patients attending National Health Service community prescribing services and examines current practice in the clinical management of benzodiazepine dependence.
Method: A postal questionnaire survey of 174 NHS substance misuse services in England and Wales.
Results: A 71% response rate was achieved. Services estimated the prevalence of benzodiazepine use to be 40% and the prevalence of benzodiazepine dependence to be less than 25% among opiate dependent patients in treatment. Illicit supplies (street) and general practitioners were regarded as the most common source of benzodiazepines. The most commonly reported reasons for benzodiazepine use were for the direct intoxicating effects and for the treatment of anxiety/insomnia. The majority of services (93,75%) reported prescribing benzodiazepines to patients for benzodiazepine detoxification while 43 (35%) reported prescribing for benzodiazepine maintenance treatment. The variations in benzodiazepine prescribing practices across services are described.
Conclusions: Benzodiazepine use remains common among opiate addicts in contact with treatment services. The majority of services surveyed reported prescribing benzodiazepines but there was much variation in clinical practice nationally. There is need for further research to identify effective treatment approaches for comorbid benzodiazepine dependence in opiate misusers.