Sleeping Pills cost NHS £50 million a year
According to an article published in the Guardian Online the NHS now spends around £50 million on prescription sleeping pills – a rise of 17% over the last three years.
The worrying statistic here is not the increase in the number of people being prescribed sleeping pills but the fact that so many people (or their doctors) feel they need medication to help them sleep in the first place. Figures provided by the Co-operative Pharmacy show that 15.3 million prescriptions were handed out in 2010/11 with the highest number being given in the North-West.
You have to wonder what it is that’s keeping us all awake and what’s so different about the North-West to make it necessary for patients there to need more medication than the rest of the country. Are they “genetically” more predisposed to insomnia or (and more likely) are the drug reps in the North-West better sales people than in the rest of the UK?
Could it be that doctors have moved on from automatically handing out antidepressants in favour of sleeping pills? I can’t say I’ve noticed this in my practice as I continue to see the same number of clients prescribed antidepressants as I ever have. Worryingly this suggests that doctors are now auto-prescribing sleeping pills as well as antidepressants.
In the article it states that “Zoplicone was given to more than 5.2m patients nationally, making it the most popular sleeping tablet”. “Popular”? like it’s some sort of fashion brand? – I wonder if we’ll start seeing people with designer pill boxes emblazoned with the labels “give me Zoplicone” or “I’m on Temazepam” in some funky new font.
At some point or other, most of us will experience insomnia to a greater or lesser degree, whether that’s the odd night of not being able to get to sleep for a few hours or maybe difficulty in sleeping over a prolonged period. Either way, is the answer to insomnia necessarily to be found in sleeping pills?
If something is keeping us awake surely it can’t be a lack of sleeping pills otherwise we’d all be exhausted insomniacs dragging ourselves through the day if we weren’t on them.
Another (and more worrying) problem is the effect of the prolonged use of sleeping pills which is known to lead to psychological dependency – great for the drug companies but a nightmare (pardon the pun) for patients and yet another issue that the NHS has to deal with.
Research carried out by the Co-operative Pharmacy has shown that millions of people suffer from insomnia each year for which they seek medical help. Given that the number of prescriptions handed out has grown to such an extent one has to ask, in what way are sleeping pills helping? It’s blatantly obvious that they’re not working in the long-term. If they were then we would see the number of cases of insomnia coming down year on year but it’s the reverse that’s really happening.
Not only are sleeping tablets not addressing the problem of insomnia and thereby wasting much needed money every year but the cost of these drugs continues to rise year on year making the problem even worse for the NHS.
Do sleeping pills work? Yes they do – if you can’t sleep and you take a sleeping tablet it will help you go to sleep – usually. But what happens when you stop taking the pills? Do you suddenly start to sleep like a baby every night? No of course not because the underlying reason for your insomnia is still there and the sleeping pills have done nothing to address it.
Think of it this way, if you tripped and broke your leg you would need to have your leg put in a plaster cast. But what if you kept tripping and breaking your leg? Would the answer be to keep your leg in a cast so that you couldn’t break it again? No, the obvious solution would be to find and remove the cause of your tripping so that it doesn’t happen again.
It’s the same thing with sleeping pills. Surely the most efficient and cost effective way to deal with insomnia is to find the cause and treat it.
Sleeping pills, like antidepressants are useful in tackling the symptoms but do nothing to address the cause. In the long-term the only people benefiting from sleeping pills are the drug companies and their share holders.
It doesn’t take a genius or even the department for health to see that focusing research and funding on to the reasons for insomnia would be a much more effective solution.
So why doesn’t this happen? There are two main reasons. Firstly, if a simple and permanent solution to insomnia were available there would be nothing in it for the drug companies – why would they invest a shed load of money into research just to prove that their drugs are not the answer?
Secondly, doctors are under increasingly tight time constraints so they only have a few minutes available for consultations. No matter how good GP’s are, they just do not have the time to get to the cause of the problem for each patient.
And The Answer Is?
If medication is not the answer, what is? As I’ve mentioned, medication can sometimes work well for the treatment of the symptoms of insomnia but a “cure” can only be found when the cause is understood. In today’s hurly burly world there can be many reasons why someone can’t sleep – too much caffeine, an unhealthy diet, anxiety, stress and depression are just a few – none of which can be cured medically.
Hypnotherapy, neuro linguistic programming (NLP) and many complementary therapies have been shown to be extremely effective in the treatment of both acute and occasional insomnia. Massage and reflexology in particular work very well for occasional insomnia (speaking from personal experience) because they work by helping you to become so deeply relaxed. And although it would be very nice, most people can’t afford to have a massage before they go to bed every night so it’s not really a long-term option.
In cases of chronic insomnia, hypnotherapy and NLP are particularly effective because they work on finding the cause and helping the patient to develop new lifestyle choices and thinking patterns. This can only be achieved by taking the time to listen to patients, to find and understand the cause unique to each patient and to develop a permanent solution.
In general, doctors only have a few minutes with each patient whereas most hypnotherapists and NLP practitioners offer at least one hour. In my case I work (and charge) per session so I can see a client for anywhere from one to three hours at a time.
And Another Thing
“The research, from experts at the Jackson Hole Centre for Preventive Medicine in Wyoming and the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Centre in California, found that people prescribed sleeping pills were 4.6 times more likely to die during a two-and-a-half-year period compared with those not on the drugs”.