Australia’s hidden prescription medication crisis: ScriptWise campaign shines a spotlight on the potential harm from ongoing use of sleep and anxiety medication.

Australia’s hidden prescription medication crisis: ScriptWise campaign shines a spotlight on the potential harm from ongoing use of sleep and anxiety medication.


May 16 2019



ScriptWise campaign shines a spotlight on the potential harm from ongoing use of sleep and anxiety medication.


To coincide with Medication Dependence Prevention Month 2019, ScriptWise is urging Australians who have been prescribed a sleeping tablet to make a plan with their health professional to safely reduce intake of their sleeping pills over time, as to avoid unintended and dangerous side-effects.


Benzodiazepines, commonly called sleeping pills,[1] are one of the most common drugs implicated in overdose deaths in Australia. In 2016, more than a third (36.7%) of all overdose deaths in Australia (663) involved this class of drugs.[i]


It is estimated that four in every 10 people who take benzodiazepines regularly for more than six weeks will experience withdrawal symptoms.[ii]


Australian research has found that despite recommended guidelines, 81% of patients reporting a new problem of insomnia are prescribed a medication.[iii]


Merideth* was prescribed benzodiazepines Valium and Temaze by her psychiatrist in 1994 while in her early 40s to help her manage as she processed trauma from childhood abuse.


Within months, her speech and coordination began slowing and after a neurological assessment and an MRI, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis three years later.


Nearly 20 years later, in her early 60’s, mid-way through withdrawing from benzodiazepines her symptoms started to recede. Two separate neurologists determined she did not have MS, but rather her diminishing quality of life had been due to the medication.


These MS-like symptoms are something benzodiazepine expert Heather Ashton has documented in her world-renowned manual on safe withdrawal.[iv]


Merideth said her life during those 20 years was a mere existence lacking any quality, but she has since regained her full health and now lives happily with her husband in rural Victoria.


Shirley’s dependence on sleeping tablets began in her mid-70s when she was prescribed Serepax and Normison, to help her sleep following hip-replacement surgery.


Shirley soon needed increasing amounts of Serepax tablets to get to sleep and was prescribed higher doses. Using the medication to manage every day stress, eventually Shirley was hospitalised for depression.


Having never suffered depression prior, Shirley believes the medication was a major trigger and at 83, she found support to come off her tablets over an 18-month period.


Shirley and Merideth both say while their withdrawal process was long and difficult, it was worthwhile undertaking and enduring because they have their lives back.


Amcal Senior Pharmacist, Brinley Hosking, says that Shirley and Merideth are not alone – and cases such as theirs are more common than some might think.


“Australians may be surprised to learn that patients can experience unpleasant dependence and withdrawal symptoms while using benzodiazepines, even as prescribed during short-term timeframes,” Ms. Hosking said.


“It’s therefore critical that patients are informed about the recommended guidelines and are aware that these medications should only be used in the short-term, especially as many of the population are prone to suffer from sleep-related conditions and may be wishing to seek relevant, prescribed medication.


“Anyone who may be experiencing regular sleeping disruption should speak with their pharmacist or GP about implementing a long-term strategy that is both safe and effective,” Ms. Hosking added.


ScriptWise encourages anyone prescribed a sleep medication to visit their interactive website to find out more or download a sleep or anxiety medication action plan at


– ENDS –


For more information, please contact Lara Beissbarth – 0425 872 744


For all Amcal media enquiries please contact Emma Kneubuhler – 0431 869 582  –




[1] International guidelines suggest benzodiazepines should be prescribed to treat anxiety and/or insomnia for less than four weeks. Common benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), temazepam (Temaze), alprazolam (Xanax), oxazepam (Serepax) and nitrazepam (Mogadon).

[i] Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘3303.0 – Causes of Death, Australia, 2016’. Accessed 4 July 2016

[ii] NSW Health, 2008. Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Clinical Practice Guidelines – NSW, Sydney: NSW Health

[iii] Ree, M., Junge, M., and Cunnington, D., ‘Australasian Sleep Association position statement regarding the use of psychological/behavioural treatments in the management of insomnia in adults’, Sleep Medicine, Vol 36, 2017. Accessed March 2019:

[iv] Professor C Heather Ashton, ‘Benzodiazepines: How they work and how to withdraw’, August 2002. Accessed May 2019

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.