Involuntary tranquilizer addiction
Posted Thursday 24 February 2011
There are currently an estimated 1.5 million people addicted to prescribed tranquillisers and sleeping tablets such as Valium/Diazepam, Temazepam, Ativan/Lorazepam, Mogadon/Nitrazepam and Zimovane/Zopiclone. (See Mind’s Making sense of sleeping pills and minor tranquilisers for more information.)
Not only are these drugs highly addictive with significant side effects, they can also have incapacitating withdrawal symptoms making coming off them extremely difficult. Since 1988, the guidelines have stated that they should be used for 2-4 weeks only; however, doctors have ignored these guidelines leaving many patients on them for months, years and decades.
Although this problem has been caused by the health service, there is still no specialist NHS support to help patients safely withdraw from these drugs (to which they have become addicted through no fault of their own). GPs do not have the knowledge or resources to help patients come off safely and reverse the addiction they created. Doctors have in the past applied abrupt and enforced withdrawals which is dangerous practice and unlikely to be successful.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction was set up in 2008 to raise awareness of involuntary tranquiliser addiction and lobby NHS services. We want the NHS to give specialist help, so that patients can safely withdraw from these drugs, and we want to help prevent future addictions.
Successive governments have allowed this public health crisis to continue and one of the problems is that pharmaceutical companies strongly influence government health policy.
The Department of Health has ignored expert scientific evidence presented to them showing the dangers of benzodiazepines for 30 years. Correspondence from the department to patients, academics and MPs demonstrates that the department’s energies have been mostly focussed on denial, feigned action and concealment.
In response to these concerns the Department of Health has sent formulaic letters with stock phrases such as ‘the Department considers addiction to prescribed medicine to be an important issue’ yet no action ever follows.
Professor Ashton, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychopharmacology at Newcastle University, a world expert on benzodiazepine use and withdrawal, has repeatedly asked the Department of Health to take action. Professor Ashton ran a withdrawal clinic in Newcastle from 1982-1994 with a success rate of nearly 90%.
At a recent meeting with the Public Health Minister none of her advisors from the Department had even heard of Professor Ashton, even though her successful taper method is used worldwide. Effectively, benzodiazepines are government delivered drugs, their main function being to feed the chemical addiction created by the health system with a drug that cures nothing.
Help us campaign for better services – take up this issue with your MP.
Michael Behan, All Party Parliamentary Group for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction
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