A Carrick medical practice which was one of the highest prescribers of sedatives has reduced dependence on the drug by two thirds.
Scotch Quarter Practice was one of five that took part in a pilot scheme to reduce use of benzodiazepines.
Dr Olive Buckley, GP at Scotch Quarter Practice, said: “Our practice was one of the highest prescribers of benzodiazepines in the Northern area.
“In my 28 years in the practice, we have never been able to successfully reduce our prescribing of benzodiazepines. It seemed an impossible task.
“However, through the programme, we have significantly reduced our prescribing rates.
“For some patients, it also unmasked underlying trauma and they were subsequently able to access the appropriate help.
“I would encourage other GP practices to engage with this initiative. It’s not only better for the practice and patients but it also reduces the volume of prescription drugs which are open to misuse in the community.
“One patient said:“I had tried to come off the tablets before but found it too hard. However, with support from the pharmacist and specialist nurse, I managed to cut them right down and now I’m off them completely. I feel much brighter, more alert and my family has noticed a change in my mood.”
Of the 836 patients overall, 546 reduced and stopped taking the drugs and 205 switched to a lower dose.
The high use of benzodiazepines in Northern Ireland was highlighted as an issue by Dr Michael McBride, chief medical officer in 2015.
Benzodiazepine dependence often occurs with long term use and can result in harmful side effects including impaired cognitive abilities, memory problems and mood swings.
Traditional methods of drug withdrawal have proved difficult for many people.
Valerie Watts, chief executive, HSCB, said that in light of the excellent results, the service will now roll out across the Northern area enabling other GP practices to have the opportunity to avail of the support.