Benzodiazepines usually come in tablet or capsule form and each brand can be prescribed in different strengths. For example, diazepam is available in 2 mg, 5 mg and 10 mg tablets. The different brands of benzodiazepines are usually different strengths. For example 1-2 mg of lorazepam is equivalent to 10 mg of diazepam. Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed drug in the UK. There are various benzos including diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), nitrazepam (Mogadon - "moggies") and temazepam ("jellies", "eggs").
WHAT ARE BENZODIAZEPINES?
Benzodiazepines are sedative drugs which are prescribed by doctors to reduce anxiety, to encourage sleep or to act as a muscle relaxant. In the short term, the drugs can relieve the symptoms of stress and anxiety and promote sleep. They are sometimes used illicitly (without prescription) to offset the effects of stimulant drugs or with other "downer" drugs such as alcohol and heroin. Some users inject them.
WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS?
The effects of the drug may soon become ineffective. After 2 weeks of continuous use they may not work as "sleeping tablets" and after 4 months they may become ineffective in reducing anxiety.
Side effects such as drowsiness, forgetfulness, confusion, depression and digestive problems are experienced by some users.
Some users may become over-excited and occasionally violent. Benzodiazepines are addictive or habit forming.
Benzodiazepine users may experience: tolerance - a need for larger doses to get the same effect; withdrawal symptoms - these vary from one person to another and may include anxiety, sleeping problems, panic attacks, nausea, fits and rarely hallucinations.
The drugs stay in the body a long time and withdrawal symptoms can last for months, sometimes longer, after stopping the tablets.
Overdose is rarely fatal unless mixed with other downers such as alcohol or heroin.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF INJECTING?
Injecting tablets and capsules is very dangerous. Risks include septicaemia and abscesses and, when sharing injecting equipment, HIV and hepatitis. Temazepam capsules ("jellies"), if injected, can re-solidify in the vein and cause blockages leading to thrombosis, gangrene, loss of limbs and even death.
IF YOU WANT TO COME OFF BENZODIAZEPINES DON'T STOP SUDDENLY .
Even though some people have NO trouble coming off, withdrawal can be difficult and needs to be very gradual. Changing from shorter-acting benzodiazepines to longer-acting ones, such as diazepam, is often helpful. Many people find that changes in their diet, increased exercise and relaxation techniques can reduce some of the withdrawal symptoms. Ask your doctor or drug service for advice.
SAFER BENZODIAZEPINE USE - SOME TIPS
See your doctor before getting a repeat prescription. Don't use for long periods. It is recommended that their use be restricted to a 2 - 4 week period. If you are taking them for insomnia, leave 2 - 3 nights a week drug free.
THE LAW It is not illegal to possess benzodiazepines, except temazepam, without a prescription. The supply of any benzodiazepines (including selling or giving them to a friend) is illegal.
The law relating to temazepam changed at the beginning of 1996. It is now an offence to possess temazepam without a prescription and punishable by two years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.