The researchers found a significant, 45 per cent, increase in the rate of prescribing of these drugs in the most deprived populations compared to the least deprived. Photo: iStock

Prescriptions for the drugs to treat anxiety, alcohol withdrawal symptoms and sleep problems are highest in England’s most deprived areas, according to recent research.

The study, led by researchers from Warwick Medical School, finds a clear association between benzodiazepine and Z-drug prescribing in GP practices and socioeconomic deprivation.

It has analysed the rate of prescribing of these drugs in GP practices in England in 2017 and compared this to the estimated level of socioeconomic deprivation for each of these practices.

The number of benzodiazepines and Z-drugs prescription written in 2017 was over 14 million, totalling the equivalent of more than 2 billion milligrams of diazepam.

The researchers found a significant, 45 per cent, increase in the rate of prescribing of these drugs in the most deprived populations compared to the least deprived.

The analysis also showed large geographical variation across the country, while the prescription rates were competitively higher in the coastal areas.

The association between prescribing rates and deprivation was still visible even after accounting for the age and gender differences between GP practices’ patients.

“However, this is a very broad association. What we can’t tell from our analysis is which people within a given practice are getting those prescriptions,” said lead author of the research, Dr Saran Shantikumar.

“One possibility is that the reasons for prescribing are systematically different between practices with high or low deprivation and that those in more deprived practices are more likely to be given repeat prescriptions. Our finding that the relationship between deprivation and prescribing varied with different benzodiazepines lends some credence to that hypothesis,” he said.

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