Seizures of illicit anti-anxiety and hypnotic medication have soared in the last two years.
Seizures of benzodiazepines, a group of anti-anxiety medication, jumped 11-fold between 2013 and 2015, while seizures of so-called Z-drugs, a group of hypnotics, rose six-fold in the same time period.
Statistics provided by the Health Products Regulatory Authority show:
Zopiclone accounts for most of the drugs seized in this category.
The HPRA targets the illicit trade in these medications, which are legal when prescribed. Many of its operations are in conjunction with customs and with gardaí.
Garda sources said that organised crime gangs have moved in to control the supply of the illicit trade in prescription drugs.
“Benzos are a major problem, with a huge increase in organised crime involved in the supply and manufacture of benzos and Z-drugs,” said a garda source.
They are consumed in large quantities by drug-users who have a severe addiction, often to a range of substances, including heroin, methadone, and alcohol.
The medications feature in a range of databases — from drug-treatment figures, to drug-related deaths and, more recently, to drug driving.
Benzodiazepines were involved in 40% of poisonings in 2013, according to the National Drug-Related Deaths Index.
Diazepam and flurazepam (which are benzodiazepines) were the main drugs in 151 poisoning deaths in 2013, while zopiclone was the main drug in 51 deaths.
Official statistics show a massive increase in the numbers of people in treatment whose main drugs of abuse were benzodiazepines, rising from 261, in 2009, to 719, in 2013, a rise of 175%.
Last month, a report by the Road Safety Authority found that prescription drugs were involved in 30% of road fatalities, benzodiazepines being the main medication.
Laws clamping down on the illicit trade in prescription medicines — first drawn up in 2013 — were passed in the Oireachtas last July, but commencement of the provisions is still awaited.
Last September, drugs strategy minister, Catherine Byrne, said the act would be commenced, when associated regulations were ready. She said this should happen “within the coming weeks”.
A statement from the Department of Health said further work was being undertaken on the regulations, which was at an advanced stage and would be finalised “very shortly”.
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