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Health experts warn of dangers of buying 'prescription' sedatives as substitutions continue to rise

Published: 8 July 2021

The WEDINOS project has seen a substantial increase in non-prescribed ‘prescription’ medications being submitted to the drug testing service in Wales. The purchase of non-prescribed and non-controlled benzodiazepines, generally obtained through an online market, is a growing concern. 

The WEDINOS Annual Report for 2020-21, published by Public Health Wales, also identifies a decrease in the submission of substances including cocaine and other stimulants, due to the closure of night time economy venues (NTE) due to the pandemic restrictions, say experts.  Although, increases in stimulant submissions were observed at times when lockdowns were relaxed over the year.  

Benzodiazepines such as Diazepam, are common sedative drugs often prescribed for anxiety and insomnia.  Benzodiazepines may also be accessible and purchased online or non-prescribed routes. There is evidence, through the results of WEDINOS analysis, of high levels of substitution of benzodiazepines, for other benzodiazepines or substances, causing a potential risk to public health.  

Benzodiazepines were, for the fourth consecutive year, the most commonly identified class of mind altering, psychoactive substances and this year Diazepam was identified in 13 per cent of all community samples received, with Flubromazolam the second most commonly identified substance, despite being identified only once as the intended purchase.

Josie Smith, Head of Substance Misuse for Public Health Wales and Programme Lead for WEDINOS said:

“Whilst this last year has been extraordinary in so many ways, the work of WEDINOS has continued unabated. 2020-21 has seen an increase in the proportion of benzodiazepine samples and, due to closure of pubs, bars and night clubs as part of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, a relative decrease in the submission of community samples of drugs including cocaine and other stimulants 

 “We are however increasingly aware of the high number of substitutions within benzodiazepines.  These products may contain varying amounts of active ingredient, substituted drugs with different onset and duration times, different strengths or combinations of substances making it hard for individuals to know what they are taking and to reduce potential harms associated with use.  This is a real threat to an individual’s health including risks of the overdose and development of dependency.   

”We would encourage anyone with concerns regarding use of non-prescribed benzodiazepines to seek information and support” 

Despite the lack of submissions from social and night club venues due to COVID restrictions, there was an increase of 28% in the number of samples submitted to WEDINOS for testing in 2020-21 from community settings compared to the previous year.  

Public Health Wales produces reports and information to influence national and international policy to ensure it is based on the best evidence to protect and improve health. 

The full report can be downloaded at:

Those seeking to receive support for drug or alcohol related concerns can contact the Wales Drug and Alcohol Helpline on Freephone 0808 808 2234, by texting DAN to: 81066 or by visiting

More information on WEDINOS is available at

More information on substance misuse from Public Health Wales is available at