This Europe: Serbs forced to tackle tranquilliser abuse

By Vesna Peric Zimonjic
Wednesday 08 January 2014 05:22
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Millions of Serbs are being forced to reduce their use of tranquillisers, taken in large numbersduring and after the chaotic years of Slobodan Milosevic's presidency.

Pharmaceutical statistics showed that the nation of 7 million Serbs swallowed some 144 million pills of Diazepam and Bromazepam, which were available over the counter, last year. "It looked as if the entire nation was high on drugs," the Health Minister, Milos Knezevic, said.

Besides being easily available, the pills were very cheap, even by local standards. A package of 20 cost about half a euro (30p).

The government introduced strict measures this week for obtaining the tranquillisers. People will need a prescription for the pills, which must be therapy-related. Stringent controls on prescriptions have also been introduced.

The authorities think that life in the country has improved since Mr Milosevic fell from power two years ago and that Serbs no longer need pills to deal with their everyday lives.

Statistics from the pre-Milosevic era show that the consumption of tranquillisers amounted to 12 million pills a year, about 8 per cent of today's total. But they became the hallmark of the 1990s under Mr Milosevic. Serbs had to deal with wars, Nato bombing, raging inflation, and Mr Milosevic's decision to freeze $4.5bn (£2.9bn) of private savings.

But medical experts warned that kicking the habit could be a problem. "These drugs can cause addiction in less than three months. It takes more than two or three months to drop the habit under constant medical supervision,"Jovan Maric, a psychiatrist, said.

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