Doctors ignored drugs warnings

Date published: 18 October 2010

A 30-year-old document revealing doctors’ fears about the number of people addicted to benzodiazepine drugs has been uncovered by the Beat the Benzos group.

And Oldham campaigner Barry Haslam says it is a scandal that the medical profession ignored warnings, including evidence of brain damage, so many years ago.

Mr Haslam, who was himself left brain damaged after 10 years addicted to Ativan, discovered through a Freedom of Information request that experts at the Medical Research Council met in 1981 to debate the problems of benzodiazepine addiction and withdrawal.

Experts there included psychiatrists and consultants interested in GP medicine and drug withdrawal. The minutes show representatives from drug companies Roche and Wyeth were contacted to be observers.

Other documents show that a study of 14 patients who were long-term benzodiazepine users underwent CT scans which showed that two had brain atrophy and five had borderline brain damage.

Now, Heywood and Middleton MP Jim Dobbin, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Involuntary Tranquillise Addiction (APGGITA), is writing to the MRC to ask what happened to the report, if any further action was taken and what is their current assessment of the position.

The minutes show that almost 30 years ago, the experts were saying benzos should not be prescribed for long periods, should not be abruptly withdrawn and called for a study of methods of withdrawing to keep adverse effects to a minimum.

They also discussed a study showing that patients who stopped taking the drugs in the first four weeks probably achieved recovery through counselling from their doctors, rather than the drug.

Between 1967 and 1978 the number of long-term repeat prescriptions for benzodiazepines doubled every year and 50 per cent were given without a consultation, they were told.

Mr Haslam, who is an adviser to APPGITA, and campaigned to open the country’s only NHS-funded benzo-withdrawal service in Oldham, said: “It is a scandal that the medical profession ignored a report showing half the people in the study were brain damaged.

“The report may have gone into medical journals but nothing seems to have happened after that.

“Words fail me. It is incredible that this was being discussed 30 years ago.

“If this had been acted on perhaps I would not have had to suffer brain damage and all the other people affected might have been saved.”