The over-prescription of benzodiazepines (tranquilizers) to women in Canada was first identified as a critical health care issue in the 1970s. Yet in the year 2000 alone, there were more than 15.7 million prescriptions filled by Canadian retail pharmacies. When women go to their doctor with comparable symptoms, they are more likely than men to be prescribed benzodiazepines.
Physicians prescribe benzodiazepines and sleeping pills to help women cope with work or family stress, pre-menstrual syndrome, grief, and adjustment to life events, such as childbirth and menopause, or for chronic illness and pain. Non-drug treatments for these circumstances and conditions continue to be under-promoted and underused.
Benzodiazepines impair cognitive functioning, memory and balance and because they are often prescribed to women for longer than the recommended time period (a maximum of two to four weeks), women are also at particular risk of involuntary addiction.
Directly or indirectly, benzodiazepines influence almost every brain function and ultimately most biological systems, including the central nervous, neuromuscular, endocrine and gastrointestinal systems. Sleeping pills (hypnotics) act by the same mechanisms and have the same effects on the brain and body.
Benzodiazepines and sleeping pills also impair and compromise a wide range of basic skills that are necessary for coping with the intellectual and psychological demands of everyday living. They impair memory and reasoning, produce forgetfulness and disrupt the process of memory retrieval, affect flexibility of thoughts and motor control, eye/hand coordination, mental reaction, information processing and focus. Balance control is affected by benzodiazepine use leading to an increased risk of falls and hip and femur fractures, especially among the elderly. Benzodiazepines are also a common cause of confusion and dementia in seniors.
A lack of understanding of the symptoms of tolerance withdrawal often results in the addition of other prescription drugs (for example, antidepressants or anti-psychotics), with increased side effects, leading to further involvement of women in the health or mental health systems.
One in three status Aboriginal women over 40 in Western Canada was prescribed tranquilizers or sleeping pills in 2000. Aboriginal women are almost twice as likely to receive tranquilizer prescriptions as Aboriginal men.
Up to 50 percent of all women over 60 in Canada may be prescribed tranquilizers or sleeping pills. Long-term care facilities, which have a higher proportion of female residents, also have high levels of benzodiazepine prescription rates. These drugs are a common cause of confusion, cognitive decline and dementia. Long-term tranquilizer use has also been linked to an increased risk of falls and hip and femur fractures among the elderly.
Tranquilizers and sleeping pills have been linked to floppy infant syndrome, failure to suckle, and withdrawal symptoms in the child. It may also impair fetal growth and retard brain development, leading to learning and emotional difficulties for the child later in life.
According to BC's Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, benzodiazepines may be used to numb patients to the physical and mental pain of poverty and harsh reality.
Non-drug treatments and resources are under-promoted and under-used. Health Canada and the provincial/territorial governments should provide funding and support to community-based organizations to explore and provide free of charge non-drug advice and options that support women's well-being and help women cope.
By allowing the over-prescription and inappropriate use of benzodiazepines and sleeping pills to women in Canada, we are "manufacturing addiction" and contributing both to the suffering of women and their families and to escalating health care costs. The benefits of acting on this problem are many and clear. Action to address this problem is long overdue.
For more information, see the full study at: www.bccewh.bc.ca/policy_briefs/Benzo_Brief/ benzobriefv3.pdf. Or call (604) 875-2633.
If you or someone you know is possibly addicted to sleeping pills or tranquilizers, contact: 1-888-818-9172 for more information.
Common benzodiazepines available in Canada include: Ativan (lorazepam), Serax (oxazepam), Rivotril and Klonopin (clonazepam), Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam). Common sleeping pills available in Canada include: Ambien (zolpidem) and Imovane (zopiclone).
In direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of drugs on television and in magazines in the USA, it has been found that women are targeted more than twice as often as men and the volume of DTCA is highest in women's magazines. As these ads easily make their way across the border, women in Canada face additional pressure to view life events and natural processes as medical conditions for which medication is needed.
As direct-to-consumer ads have been shown to be a poor source of information about prescription drugs it is important that federal legislation in Canada be strengthened to protect women from DTCA.
Excerpt from Manufacturing Addiction: The Over-Prescription of Tranquilizers and Sleeping Pills to Women in Canada by Janet C. Currie with the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women's Health.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Briarpatch, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group