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As a psychiatrist, I see my fair share of patients who try to convince me to prescribe tranquilisers to them.

A patient recently told me that his sister “takes a green pill whenever she feels depressed; she gave me some and they really calmed me down. Can’t you just prescribe them for me?”

Needless to say, I do not prescribe sleeping pills unless necessary, no matter how upset the patient may get.

Sadly, this does not stop people from taking sleeping pills because unlike most countries where the sale of such medicines is tightly regulated, in Pakistan, anyone can buy them over the counter, in any quantity, without a prescription. The consumption of unprescribed sleeping pills in Pakistan is so high that it recently created a shortage in the market, leading to an increase in their prices.

The reasons for self-prescribing tranquillisers among people vary from sleep disturbances to severe anxiety and depression. As tranquillisers provide rapid relief from such symptoms, many people end up being addicted to them without realising it; they also need higher doses of the medicine to produce the desired effect.

No wonder then that overdoses are common. I have heard many a patient tell me, “Doctor, I was so upset! I just wanted to go to sleep. I took two sleeping tablets, but they didn’t work, so I took more.”

If they are lucky, these patients just sleep for a few days while others end up in the emergency room, with low blood pressure, difficulty breathing and confusion.

These drugs have other serious side-effects including memory loss and impaired reflexes; the latter sometimes leads to accidents, especially among the older patients.

Worse still, many people who use tranquillisers may actually be masking the symptoms of an underlying psychiatric disorder like clinical depression or anxiety. Hence, by delaying proper and timely treatment, they worsen their symptoms.

The moral here is please, do not self-prescribe. Seek a doctor’s advice before taking any medication, especially tranquillisers. n

– Dr Uzma Ambareen, MD

The writer is a consultant psychiatrist at the Free Mental Health Clinic and a member of the Pakistan Association for Mental Health.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on September 9, 2012.