‘Worrying evolution’: Belgian sales of sleeping pills increases

‘Worrying evolution’: Belgian sales of sleeping pills increases
Credit: Belga

There was a sharp increase in the number of sleeping pills being bought in Belgium last year, according to Febelco, the largest supplier of medicines to pharmacies.

The company reporter there was an evident rise both in the number of prescription sleep-inducing drugs and in sleep-inducing pills that are available across pharmacy counters without a prescription.

The Belgian sales of these over-the-counter pills saw an annual increase of 10-11% compared to 2019, but in December 2020, these figures skyrocket to 41% compared to the year before.

When it comes to the prescribed sleep medication, the increase may seem less dramatic - in 2020, an increase of 3.4% was observed. “But, in a market with over 6 million units sold annually, we are talking about some 200,000 extra products based on benzodiazepines being sold," according to Olivier Delaere, CEO of Febelco.

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For January 2021, things were moving in the same direction, said Delaere: “The evolution has been going on for some time, but what we have noticed in the last few months is absolutely spectacular.”

“We don't want to draw any premature conclusions, but this evolution seems worrying to us,” Delaere told VRT News, emphasising that prescription sleeping pills can have side effects and are often addictive.

The report highlighted that, although the impact of the corona crisis is clearly felt in the sales of these pills, there are other explanations for the increase in soft sleep aids, with for example melatonin, used for short-term treatment of insomnia, such as from jet lag or shift work, or herbal remedies.

“People are reaching for them more readily because there is no need for a prescription, and the range has also become much wider,” explained Delaere.

On top of that, doctors are also increasingly recommending more gentle sleep aids to patients, because they have been asked to prescribe less traditional sleep medication, to reduce the number of people who are on the 'stronger' pills.

Lauren Walker

The Brussels Times

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