Data from the Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) for 2009 shows over 596,000 prescriptions were written for the insomnia drug, Zopiclone.
More than 492,000 were prescribed under the state- funded General Medical Scheme (GMS), with a further 104,000 prescriptions written under the Drug Payment Scheme. There is no way of telling how many more were taken by people outside these schemes.
Zopiclone ranks 21 in the table of top 100 prescribed drugs in the GMS, with an increase of more than 100,000 prescriptions since 2005 and at least 40,000 more than in 2008.
The prescribing rates for the benzodiazepine drug, Diazapam — better known as Valium and which is used to treat anxiety — also rose in 2009, as has been the year-on-year trend, despite concerns over the use of this class of drugs. It falls just below Zopiclone in the top 100 list.
The use of another benzodiazepine drug Xanax, also used to treat anxiety and panic disorder, has also dramatically increased in recent years, with 283,000 prescriptions written in 2005 compared with 382,921 in 2008 and 399,798 last year.
The risk of overuse, abuse and dependence on benzodiazepines has been well documented. Earlier this year, the inspector of Mental Health Services found in some hospitals, up to 80% of long-term patients were being prescribed sedatives.
The latest PCRS data for 2009, published this month, shows Paroxetine, a class of anti-depressants known as SSRIs, and marketed as Paxil or Seroxat, continues to be prescribed here despite serious concerns about bad reactions including violent behaviour and suicide. HSE data from 2008 shows Seroxat was prescribed for under-16s, despite only being licensed for those over 18.