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H O U S E OF C O M M O N S
APPG for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction
Letter from Jim Dobbin MP to
The Rt Hon James Purnell, DWP,
December 11, 2008
The Rt Hon James Purnell
Secretary of State
Thursday, 11 December 2008
Ref P ITA/5
Re: White Paper Raising Expectations and Increasing Support: reforming welfare for the future
As Chair of the All Party Group on Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction, I should like to draw your attention to particular areas that are causing concern to the members of the All Party Group.
There are 1.5 million involuntary tranquilliser addicts in the UK who have been prescribed Benzodiazepine drugs such Valium (diazepam), Librium (chlordiazepoxide) and Ativan (lorazepam) and the "Z" drugs such as zimovane and zopiclone by their doctors and, through no fault of their own, have become addicted to these drugs, often without their knowledge. These drugs are indicated for short term use of 2-4 weeks only and protracted use does not treat any medical condition but instead maintains the addiction which leads to long term physical and mental damage. The problem is the result of poor prescribing by doctors.
The APPG has been trying for several years to raise awareness of involuntary tranquilliser addiction and lobby for support for addicts from health service providers, local authorities and government. It would not be an exaggeration to say we have failed to achieve these aims up to now.
No NHS funded withdrawal facilities are available apart from one nurse/counsellor in Oldham and one in Belfast. Several voluntary groups attempt to cope with the problem but are too few to make much impression.
We met with your adviser David Freud earlier in the year to explain the problem to him and he was also made aware of our belief that many people who are on prescribed drugs are also on long-term incapacity benefits as a result. There are no government figures available to measure this connection and David Freud decided to investigate this within the DWP.
In the White Paper, despite a chapter entitled "No one written off", prescribed drug users and their problems are completely ignored and consequently there is no road back to work for them. While heroin and other voluntary illicit drug addicts are provided with withdrawal facilities, rehabilitation and a treatment allowance, involuntary tranquilliser addicts are left to fend for themselves. Benzo and "Z" drug withdrawal is painful and severe and requires good clinical management, specialised support and information. I enclose a copy of Professor Heather Ashton's Tranquilliser Withdrawal Protocol which has been used successfully all over the world. With this system, addicts can withdraw safely and successfully over a period of 6-24 months with little danger of relapse. Our suggested solution is that this large group of people is provided with specialist withdrawal facilities throughout the UK by the DWP and/or the Dept of Health, based on Professor Heather Ashton's successful method. This treatment is very cost effective in that a few thousand pounds per patient can save years of addiction and reliance on benefits and alleviate the human misery of addicts, families and friends. It would reduce the benefits; cost and allow ex addicts to return to the workforce.
A further large group of prescribed drug addicts is addicted to SSRI antidepressants such as Seroxat and Prozac and may also require specialist withdrawal treatment.
I hope you will consider the points we have made and remedy the omission of involuntary tranquilliser addiction from your proposed reforms. These people would be glad to receive the opportunity to return to work and lead a normal life but they seem to be excluded. There are considerable savings to be made for the Dept of Health, the Dept of Work and Pensions and the taxpayer.
Jim Dobbin MP, Chair
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