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Joan E. Gadsby's Fax to BC Magazine

July 3, 2000


Market-Media International Corp.
4507 Cedarcrest Ave., North Vancouver, BC V7R 3R2 Canada
Phone: (604) 987-6064 Fax: (604) 987-6063

July 3, 2000

Mr. Noel Hulsman,
Assistant Editor,
BC Business Magazine
4th Floor, 4180 Lougheed Hwy.
Burnaby, BC, V5C 6A7
Fax: (604) 299-9188

Re: BC Business Magazine Article July 2000 "Pill Happy" by Roberta Staley

Dear Noel,

Further to our telephone conversations regarding the printing of this article, I, like many others who have contacted you, am expressing my strong concerns and disappointment regarding the inaccurate and misleading content, writing style and focus of the article which has upset many benzodiazepine (tranquillizer and sleeping pill) users who have become "accidental addicts." The article does little to create a positive awareness of this serious problem of inappropriate prescribing of these drugs.

Hundreds of thousands of people in British Columbia, Canada and worldwide (not a small vocal minority as the article implies) have suffered immensely and needlessly and some have even lost their lives as a result of trusting their doctors to "do no harm" in prescribing these drugs - in many cases for years contrary to established guidelines (for short term, intermittent use only) and without being properly informed of the serious and insidious adverse effects which have been known for over two decades to doctors.

This is a long standing major health issue with considerable socio-economic and political implications not only in British Columbia but internationally which costs millions of dollars. Misprescribing by some doctors through ignorance, denial and apathy has had and continues to have "a high cost" including career devastation, family dysfunction, workplace safety problems, productivity losses, car accidents, falls, lost years of peoples lives, lost lives, costs to the legal and justice system, social welfare costs, emergency admissions, detox facilities and increased overall costs for healthcare and other addiction counselling professionals.

In British Columbia we have an ongoing significant problem with not only seniors (23% of whom receive repeat prescriptions for years - 27% on the North Shore) but an estimated 10 - 15% of the population from young teens to all ages are misprescribed these drugs with two thirds being prescribed to women. All of this has been identified and documented in extensive research including concerns expressed by the Chief Medical Health Officer for British Columbia who strongly recommended an awareness campaign to address the issue, the British Columbia Auditor General in his report on appropriate drug utilization, the Women’s Health Bureau and the Attorney General's Ministry, etc.

Alarmingly a British Columbia report released in May 1999 revealed that in 1997 benzo prescriptions continued to surpass all other prescriptions for women exceeding cardiac drugs, anti depressants and estrogen. The question this all raises is WHY is this continuing?

How has this been allowed? Pharmaceutical companies have spent millions of dollars over the years marketing and promoting these drugs, and physicians regrettably have been slow in upgrading their knowledge or have been resistant to change.

The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Canada in an extensive public relations article in the Globe and Mail in April 1997 acknowledged this and that there was "an urgent need to educate the medical profession" with "some of the worst problems of inappropriate prescribing occurring with well established medications such as benzodiazepine tranquillizers".

The publishing of this article has also caused Dr. Ray Baker (an internationally recognized addiction doctor in British Columbia and who has been involved with the Department of Addiction Medicine at UBC for 15 years) who was allegedly wrongly quoted or taken out of context as saying "these drugs are remarkably non toxic drugs and as benign as aspirins" to respond swiftly to benzo sufferers/survivors on the internet worldwide to clarify what he in fact meant or said to your writer.

In his response he stated that these prescribed drugs are a "terrible group of drugs" "overprescribed by physicians" "can be addictive", "can result in a prolonged, protracted withdrawal syndrome - far more dangerous than heroin withdrawal "and in fact," can with prolonged use be slow to reverse and may even leave permanent synaptic (neuroanatomical) changes in the brain" - i.e. permanent brain damage or cognitive impairment. He further stated that "there are very few medical indications for the prolonged administration of benzodiazepines and they are "best used for short courses for definite indications". He has expressed his concern that his interview with your writer was "extremely brief, not a balanced interview and a reaction to a specific point of view." This is very troublesome indeed.

When I was first contacted by Roberta Staley it was following her viewing earlier this year on CTV of my television documentary "Our Pill Epidemic" - the shocking story of a society hooked on drugs which I co-executive produced with Jack McGaw formerly of CTV's W5. She indicated that she wanted to do a story on the effects of benzos on business people which I pointed out to her was considerable i.e. decreased productivity, impaired concentration and cognitive functioning, problems in decision making as well as workplace safety concerns. I referred her to Greg (not his real name in the article) since she wanted another business executive also affected by these insidious drugs whose career and family life was also devastated as mine was.

I also arranged for her to receive a copy of my book "Addiction By Prescription" - one woman's triumph and fight for change which had just been released by my publisher, Key Porter Toronto (and which is internationally endorsed by experts). My book includes 9˝ years of international research and contains a full chapter entitled "Call to Action" with concrete proposals for resolving the problem of misprescribing, misdiagnosis and mistreatment surrounding these drugs. My book is a follow up to Barbara Gordon's 1979 best selling book "I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can" describing her chemically induced nervous breakdown going off Valium. My book will be distributed worldwide and I have just finished an across Canada publicity tour to seven cities where I received an exceptional response and support from all media.

At a personal level, I take great exception to your writer's interpretation that my book airs a mound of dirty laundry and describes my metamorphosis into "Mommie Dearest, a mean spirited career woman who heaped mental and emotional abuse on her family." I have always been a devoted Mother and have never been a mean spirited woman. Your writer's lack of objectivity, lack of understanding of the effects of benzos and biased writing ignores significant international research provided to her by myself and contained in my book which shows that some of the serious, documented adverse side effects of these drugs include uncharacteristic behaviour, paradoxical reactions and drug induced antisocial behaviour and disinhibition. Our family life was regrettably dysfunctional as are many others where a family member is "hooked on these kinds of insidious drugs".

My career has included being a successful marketing executive with four of Canada's largest companies and as a former poll topping Councillor in North Vancouver District for thirteen years. I was selected in 1994 as one of Canada's most notable women by the Canadian University Women's Club and am President of my own company Market Media International Corporation which provides with senior contract executive associates consulting services in strategic marketing and planning, business development, government relations and issues management to a wide variety of private and public sector clients. I currently sit on the National and BC Board of Women Entrepreneurs of Canada.

Your writer's comments are indeed hurtful, unkind and indicative of her sensational "National Enquirer" style of writing and lack of understanding of the subject which is inexcusable and unacceptable to my family and myself who are owed an apology.

To further clarify, I was wrongly prescribed these drugs (Valium, Librium, Dalmane, Restoril, Serax), after my son died of a brain tumor Christmas of 1996, for over two decades by my former trusted family physician and it was not until I survived an intentional overdose in February 1990 when I almost lost my life and subsequently went through the horrors of protracted withdrawal that I found out the serious consequences of taking these drugs (which I took on the advice of my doctor and in the same way I took birth control pills). At no time did I give informed consent - like many others who did not and do not, and suffer the consequences.

This horrendous experience which has cost me more than $1.4 million to date began my 9˝ years of rebuilding my health, my life and my family and my research into these drugs worldwide. All this led to my eventual production of my television documentary and my book to share my experience, create awareness and effect much overdue systemic change.

Currently I have a movie of the week proposal in Los Angeles based on my book and have discussed with actress Sally Field her interest in the project - a further awareness building project to help others.

To further clarify, my lawsuit against my former family doctor (which is mirrored by 5000 similar cases in the United Kingdom and others throughout the world including Canada) was lost as a result of the alleged negligence of my former lawyer and a negligence action against her was filed in October 1998 and will be heard early next year in the BC Supreme Court. I was advised that the chances of success in an Appeal on my lost case against my former doctor were low as a result of her alleged negligence - which was described by my lawyer as "the worst case of barrister negligence he has ever seen".

I have also presented on this subject to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health in Ottawa in 1997 and as a result of my initiatives this serious health issue of overprescribing tranquillizers and sleeping pills by doctors will be raised in the Senate this fall by Senator Lucie Pépin and will also be returned to the House of Commons asking for a full Public Inquiry.

Since I have been recognized as an authority internationally on benzos, I have also been asked to present on this subject at an international conference in London, England in early November this year with other worldwide authorities. To help create awareness regarding benzos (which I thought was the real purpose of the article) I'm listing below a few salient research facts for your readers.

There are four elements of the benzodiazepine (i.e. Valium, Librium, Dalmane, Restoril, Serax, Ativan, Rivotril etc) problem.

  1. Unnecessary prescribing beyond a short term if at all (2 - 4 weeks is stipulated in guidelines dating back to the early 70s and 80s) and 7 - 10 days by Health Canada.

  2. Serious and often dangerous side effects including paradoxical agitation, increased behavioural disinhibition, impaired new learning, reduced mental alertness, cognitive impairment, decreased short and long term memory, impaired psychomotor functioning, impaired visual spatial abilities, rage, suicidal ideation, creation of psychiatric symptoms i.e. appearance or worsening of depressive symptoms, induced anxiety, dementia, floppy baby syndrome, emotional anaesthesia, perceptual distortions, blurred vision, unintentional overdoses, toxicity, addiction and cross addictions to alcohol and other drugs.

  3. The severity and extended duration of withdrawal effects, both acute and protracted lasting up to two years or more (depending on years of use).

  4. The potential for organic brain damage and potentially permanent cognitive impairment. Research has shown that 52% of patients on therapeutic doses of benzos long term suffer a gradual intellectual deterioration.

Some Facts on Drugs and Benzodiazepines in Particular

  1. Serious side effects have been known and documented for over two decades by the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties (CPS), the BCMA, Health Canada, the Canadian Medical Association and other research papers and publications throughout the world.

  2. The majority of people who have been prescribed these drugs long term are unaware of the side effects and have not given informed consent to this kind of treatment which results in iatrogenic or doctor induced illness.

  3. People's ability to cope is seriously affected by these drugs since they are in a perpetual drugged state - a "dry gin" without realizing it.

  4. Over 70% of people prescribed these drugs become cross addicted to other drugs primarily alcohol which they use to handle "mini withdrawals" between pills.

  5. An estimated 60% of users of tranquillizers and sleeping pills become addicted and suffer adverse reactions to the drugs.

  6. 40% of injured or dead drivers of motor vehicles show prescription drugs in their blood - predominantly tranquillizers and sleeping pills.

  7. The infrastructure available and doctors’ knowledge to help people withdraw from these drugs is minimal.

  8. 68% of people prescribed benzos receive their prescription from only one doctor.

  9. Prescription drug addiction to benzodiazepines is far more gripping and debilitating than addiction to heroin or cocaine.

  10. New "diseases" are being created by drug manufacturers including the latest - "social anxiety disorder" for which Paxil (an antidepressant) is being promoted heavily on television currently.

  11. Psychiatric disorders cannot be diagnosed when a patient is on these drugs according to the DSMIV Psychiatric Manual.

In forming the Benzodiazepine Call to Action group in 1995, I and others became affiliated with the International Victims of Tranquillisers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere throughout the world where there are ten other groups committed to creating awareness of this serious health issue. Anyone wishing to join can fax me at (604) 987-6063.

Perhaps one positive aspect which came out of this article was a phone call from Dr. Ray Baker in his role as Chairman of the Addiction Committee of the BCMA. He has asked me to present at the Committee's September meeting and has indicated his wish to work with me on a project to educate doctors about benzos. (I attempted this over 4 years ago with the BCMA.)

There is in my view a direct parallel with the misprescribing of these drugs and their long term consequences with the highly publicized Red Cross Blood scandal which has devastated so many people's lives. It was all known over two decades ago to pharmaceutical companies, to governments and to doctors. But little has been done to address this issue. Is a Class Action Suit required to get action?

Today, ten years off these prescribed drugs the quality of my life has increased tenfold and I run 2˝ miles every day along the West Vancouver seawall - a key factor in my recovery.

Sadly and tragically while I have been rebuilding my health, my life and my family my oldest daughter, Deb, died of breast cancer May 1, 1999. But there were no pills required to cope with her serious illness or the tremendous grief and pain I feel from losing another of my beloved children to cancer. Nor were they ever required before or after my son's death.

Your writer, Roberta Staley has indeed done a major disservice to the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer with their families from benzo misprescribing and who go through their own personal "hell" while they are on the drugs and in withdrawal - and to others who might have benefited from a factual story on the subject as one would have expected from BC Business Magazine.

I invite your readers to read my book "Addiction By Prescription" which has been a two year project and which is available in all major bookstores. The facts and research on the misprescribing, misdiagnosis and mistreatment surrounding tranquillizers and sleeping pills and their serious adverse side effects are all there. The time for action and change is now before other lives are lost or destroyed. There can be and should be an integrated approach to positive partnership solutions to this long standing serious health epidemic. And I will continue to do my part to make this happen. Together, we can make a difference!

Any questions, please call. I look forward to your publishing my letter of response in its entirety in the September issue of BC Business Magazine.

Sincerely,

Joan E. Gadsby
President



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