In an effort to cut the vast overuse of transquilizers, the Food and Drug Administration has persuaded drug-makers to tell doctors such polls should not be used for "everyday" stress.
Five companies, including Hoffman-LaRoche, whose Valium and Librium are taken by the millions, will begin saying: "Anxiety or tension associated with the stress of everyday life usually does not require treatment with an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drug.
The aim, FDA Commissioner Jere E. Goyan said yesterday, is to reduce the use of drugs "not clearly needed."
Five billion tranquilizer pills are prescribed annually. There were 39 million prescriptions in 1979 for Valium alone, making it the nation's most prescribed drug.
Goyan has said Americans could probably cut their total drug intake in half without harm. He puts tranquilizers and sleeping pills high on the list of drugs overused by "our overmedicated society."
Overuse and sometimes even moderate daily use of benzodiazepine tranquilizers -- Valium, Librium, Warner Chilcott's Verstran, Abbott's Tranxene and Azene, Wyeth's Serax and Ativan and Parke-Davis' Centrax -- can lead to serious addiction.
Use with alcohol and other depressants, like sleeping pills and narcotics, can sometimes be fatal. According to the Federal Drug Alert Warning Network, 54,400 people needed emergency from treatment in a 12-month period of 1976-77 for Valium misuse and overuse. By contrast, only 21,500 heroin, morphine and methandone abusers were treated in the same period.
The new wording will be added to the "physician labeling," the language drug-makers use in package inserts, advertisements and other information for doctors.
"Tranquilizers can do great good in helping people get through crisis situations or in helping with problems of mental illness," Goyan said.
The same drugs are often used to relieve muscle strain and tightness.
"Yet millions of Americans are taking them habitually" -- and unwisely -- "just to deal with the anxiety of living," Goyan said.
"I hope physicians adhere closely to these revised indications and become more discriminating" and "I hope patients will not pressure their physicians" for unneeded drugs, he added.
Dr. Sidney Wolfe, head of Ralph Nader's Health Research Group, said the warning should be given to patients, not just doctors.
"Patients should be told these drugs can interfere with their ability to drive or operate machinery, and they should be told they shouldn't be used on a longterm basis because of the addiction danger," Wolfe said.
"We know a large portion of the prescriptions are refills," he said. "Doctors have been more heavily pounded with Valium advertising and promotion than they have for any other drug. Large numbers of doctors have gotten into the Valium habit themselves because of heavy promotions."