SINGAPORE - Like Subutex, barbiturates were used as replacement therapy to Class A drugs like heroin. They were replaced by benzodiazepines in anxiety and insomnia treatment in the 1970s.
Before Dormicum, there was a benzodiazepine derivative called nimetazepam or Erimin-5. It was a hypnotic drug for treating insomnia and it also worked as a muscle relaxant.
Drug addicts took Erimin-5 and Upjohn 27, a tranquiliser, to give them a legal high and to replace their heroin addiction.
To prevent abuse, the Health Ministry (MOH) included nimetazepam as a controlled drug in 1992. Possession or consumption of nimetazepam can lead to imprisonment of up to 10 years or a $20,000 fine or both.
Subutex was later prescribed to heroin abusers to help wean them off their addiction. A synthetic opiate, it was abused by users who mixed it with Dormicum, a sedative to enhance the high from Subutex and was banned in 2006.
Facebook rapist Azuar Ahamad, 42, allegedly used Dormicum, a sleeping pill, to sexually assault women.
Earlier this month, the former logistics executive was charged with rape, sexual assault, theft, possession of obscene films and voluntarily causing hurt to his victims by giving them stupefying drugs.
His case is before the courts as he disputes having drugged some of the 22 women with sedatives. He claimed they drank themselves into a stupor.
Errant doctors, too, have added to the negative buzz.
Last year, there was an average of one case a month of doctors being penalised for lax benzodiazepine prescription. The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) disciplinary committee called such over-prescription "particularly troubling".
Long-term consumption may lead to addiction and drug tolerance, with patients requiring increasingly higher doses of the drug for it to be effective.
Guidelines for Dormicum were tightened in 2008.
Dr Clarence Yeo from Killiney Family & Wellness Clinic said that to deter its abuse, doctors tend to look for danger signs like someone asking for repeat prescriptions within a couple of days.
On the proposed expansion of the Central Drug Prescribing Registry to include dispensing details for benzodiazepines, Dr Yeo added: "It will be a useful online resource that lets doctors access information that is currently unavailable to them."
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