Pharmacists enlisted to phase out (over)use of sleep aids

From Wednesday (February 1st) onwards, pharmacists in Belgium can assist people in phasing out their use of sleep medicines. A general practitioner can engage them to do so, federal Health minister Frank Vandenbroucke announced.

The minister pointed out that 400 million doses of sleep aids are bought annually in Belgium, meaning that Belgians take more than a million doses every day. Moreover, most patients take the medication longer than the recommended period, and more than one in three show signs of psychological dependence.

Starting February 1st, GPs can prescribe treatment by pharmacists to help patients phase out their daily use of sleep medication. This involves prescription sleep aids based on benzodiazepines and related products, such as Zolpidem and Lormetazepam. The pharmacist then prepares capsules with a gradually decreasing amount of medication. Patients do not have to pay extra for the service, as they will only pay for the medication the pharmacist uses in the preparations.

"Today already, people often ask their pharmacist for medical advice," says Vandenbroucke. "We are building on that relationship of trust."

"Today already, people often ask their pharmacist for medical advice," says Vandenbroucke. "We are building on that relationship of trust, and their expertise, by actively involving the pharmacist in phasing out excessive use of sleep medication."

One hundred fifty thousand euros have been allocated for the first year of the project. With this initial amount, some 650 to 1,000 patients can be helped (depending on the phasing-out programme and how often they need to visit the pharmacist).

More initiatives are underway. For instance, from April 1st, patients who chronically take five or more different drugs a year will also be able to call on their pharmacist to help them take their medication correctly and receive the necessary guidance.




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