IATROGENESIS AND OUR BENZODIAZEPINE SECRET
In June, Addiction Today was contacted by a 50-year old man, Josh, who kindly gave me permission to tell his story in the hope that it will help effect change and help others in a similar situation.
As an eight year old, Josh was considered to be a “problem child” and his GP prescribed him Librium. Over a short period of time, he became tolerant to the drug so the dose was increased.
As the result, Josh lost out on schooling, his drug-induced lack of energy prevented his engagement in childhood activities such as playing, participating in sport and having friends as, in his own words, other children regarded him as a “freak” due to his zombie-like state from the prescribed drugs.
At the age of 11 years, Josh was placed on Ativan when his behaviour was considered “out of control”. He explains that, as the result of being permanently medicated, he “had to fight harder than most 8-11 year olds in order to function on a daily basis”. After four years of benzo addiction, he “had no idea nor did I feel good about my life”.
In 1998, at Josh’s own request, he stopped taking Ativan and was prescribed Valium.
In April this year, Josh moved to London which meant he had to find a new GP. Josh had remained stable on 12mg of Valium, having steadily reduced his 40mg dose on his on volition over the years. On his first appointment, his GP told him to “reduce or find another practice”. Josh finds it hard to accept that, after 42 years of addiction, when he is starting to get his life on track, a GP with little knowledge of his patient has the power to pull the rug from under his feet without any suggestion of rehab, support groups… nothing. Just “do it or else”.
Understandably, Josh says he is “terrified as the GP has a power over me as a dependent user of a legally prescribed drug” which he has been addicted to for all but the first eight years of his life. The prestigious mental-health charity Mind contacted Josh’s GP to gently request that he review his decision but the GP dismissed Mind as “too laid back” and “very generous” in its attitude to reduction.
There were two reports published recently – one by the National Addiction Centre, one by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse – which led health minister Anne Milton to believe provided a “national picture of what is happening in the community and how we can address addiction to painkillers and tranquillisers. Most areas of the country have services in place to support people who develop problems”.
The reports are careless, looking only within the NTA population for the numbers of people addicted to benzos as the result of prescribing practices like Josh’s, which earlier estimates suggest actually tipped the million-patient point.
As Ashton highlights, services devoted to illegal drug users are currently inappropriate to this population and as such there is very little support or understanding about benzo addiction.
Ashton’s report highlights that withdrawal from benzos can be severe. “There has been a number of suicides, particularly if the withdrawal has not been competently managed…” Ashton points out that “there is a pressing need for… dedicated benzodiazepine withdrawal clinics” because this “iatrogenically dependent population” relies on advice mainly from volunteer projects such as the Bristol and District Tranquilliser Project and Council for Information on Tranquilisers and Antidressants.
We know Josh’s example is common because GPs are happy to prescribe but are not experienced in benzodiazepine withdrawal and there are no specific referral centres to help.
The “official reports” are disappointing. Until the truth about this is out, GPs will continue to prescribe carelessly and millions of people like Josh will continue to suffer as the result of this denial and ignorance.
There are people who will not allow this to continue. They are extraordinarily persistent.
Barry Haslam is one and is working on a documentary Face the Facts, due to be aired on BBC4 radio on 3 August looking at this very subject. He offers facts at www.benzo.org.uk.
Jim Dobbin MP and Mick Behan of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction are other stalwarts and offer information at www.appgita.com website.
Spread the word… people need to know what is going on!
LAURA GRAHAM is an independent consultant undertaking research, and policy and strategy development on substance misuse, mental health and offender management.