Diazepam was developed in 1963 by the Polish chemist Dr. Leo Sternbach while working at the Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche. It was the second benzodiazepine drug to be developed -succeeding chlordiazepoxide (Librium). Diazepam’s potency was found to be more than twice that of chlordiazepoxide, meaning lower dosages could be used to achieve desired clinical effects. It was also found to have a better safety profile than that of the barbiturates, which were previously the most widely-used class of drugs with similar properties to benzodiazepines. Such properties helped diazepam rapidly achieve popularity amongst clinicians and patients alike, resulting in the drug being both widely available and arguably, readily-prescribed.
The 1970’s through to the early 1980’s saw huge sales of diazepam around the world –particularly in the United States. In 1985 diazepam came ‘off-patent’, meaning that Hoffmann-La Roche’s production exclusivity ended and many other companies were able to start producing the drug.
As the extent of both its addictive properties and inducement of drug tolerance amongst users was realised, enthusiasm from many quarters began to wane and clinicians began heeding long-standing warnings about these issues. An increasingly-cautious approach to prescribing diazepam followed although British doctors still issue close to 18 million prescriptions for it per year.
Non-prescribed (black-market) sales of diazepam have increased to meet demand from people using the drug for a variety of reasons. These include use to induce the expected clinical effects, excessive use to achieve a ‘high’ or by those already with a dependency, combined use with other depressant drugs or following stimulant drug use to make inevitable ‘come downs’ more manageable and to remove the urge to take more stimulants.