28 March 2007
By Cormac O’Keeffe
ONE-IN-EIGHT Irish adults have used sedatives, tranquillisers or anti-depressants at some stage in their lives, according to a new report.
The study, carried out by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD), also found a quarter of Irish citizens on State benefits have taken sedatives, tranquillisers or anti-depressants (STADs), twice the national average.
The report found people who have been separated or widowed are also twice as likely to have resorted to the pharmaceuticals, while people who are divorced are almost four times as likely.
The report found that 12% of 15 to 64 year olds had been prescribed one of the drugs at some stage. This compared to:
25% of people on long-term State benefit.
23% of people not in paid employment.
26% of separated people.
42% of divorced people.
28% of widowed people.
The report went on to reveal 15% of the female population had taken the drugs compared to 9% of men.
Reacting to the findings, Fine Gael deputy health spokesman Dan Neville said people in “psychological pain” had little option but to go the drug treatment route given the State’s ongoing failure to provide non-medical psychotherapy services.
“A report 22 years ago, Planning for the Future on the Mental Health Services, recommended multi-disciplinary community-based psychiatric services. “A new report published in January 2006, A Vision for Change, said the same thing. We still don’t have them. There’s a neglect of attention for 22 years,” said Mr Neville.
The opposition spokes-man said these community-based teams were supposed to include services such as counselling, psychotherapy and other therapies, such as occupational and family therapies.
“Because we don’t have those teams and because psychiatrists have to deal with a lot of patients — some of them up to 600 patients — and 83% of them tell us they don’t have a psychotherapist available to them, there’s a concentration on the whole area of drug treatment.”
Mr Neville said the groups most reliant on STADs were the ones under particular societal pressures.
The report found current usage (within the last month) of STADs was 4% for the 15-64 age group, jumping to 13% for those on long-term State benefit, and 10% of those not in paid work.
Around one-in-10 people widowed or separated are currently using STADs.
The report said eight out of 10 current users took the drugs on a daily or almost daily basis. Reacting to the report’s findings, NACD director Mairead Lyons said previous research had shown that certain marginalised groups, as well as older people and women, had a higher level of use of these substances.
Ms Lyons said a particular concern for the NACD was the combined use of these drugs with other substances, such as alcohol, which other research had documented.
Professor of Psychiatry at Dublin’s Mater Hospital, Patricia Casey, was less downbeat and said the low number of adults using the drugs was encouraging.
“I have always been of the view that we give far too much medication to people, but I’m heartened by these figures.
“Current usage of four out of every 100 isn’t high. Perhaps we are prescribing less. Perhaps we are learning to be more cautious.”
She said it didn’t surprise her that higher numbers of people on State benefit, or who are widowed, divorced or separated, were more likely to use STADs.