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SEEKING JUSTICE FOR THE VICTIMS
February 2, 2001
by Jo Codd
Home for Reg Peart is a small flat in an unattractive
area of East Dorset. Here he lives alone, surrounded
by files and papers, as he seeks justice for his
fellow Victims of Tranquillisers.
Home for Reg Peart is a small flat in an unattractive area of East Dorset. Here he lives alone, surrounded by files and papers, as he seeks justice for his fellow Victims of Tranquillisers.
It is a far cry from his previous life, when he was a comfortably-off nuclear physicist living happily with his family in the Midlands.
In 1969, Dr Peart had just returned to England after eight years in the USA. Because he was having bouts of dizziness, he went to his GP, who prescribed Valium.
Unknown to Dr Peart, the drug - one of the benzodiazepine group - was designed to be taken for a short period to relieve anxiety or insomnia.
But he kept getting repeat prescriptions.
Sixteen years later, Dr Peart had lost his career, his marriage, his family and his home. He was living on benefits in a bed-and-breakfast hostel, with a mental age of 10.
"It was a slow, insidious process. One day in 1974, the doctor stopped my drugs. I was suffering from a lot of side-effects. My tolerance had gone up and I had been getting withdrawal symptoms, even though I was on the drug," he said.
"Within three days, I went into horrendous cold turkey withdrawal. I was rushed into a private psychiatric hospital, where I was given drugs and ECT (electro-convulsive therapy).
"All I could do was lie on my bed in the foetal position and beg for relief. I felt I was dying. All I could say was: 'It feels as though my head is going to explode'. I was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, but all they told my wife and me was that I'd had a nervous breakdown." Dr Peart now knows his terrifying symptoms were due to side-effects from the drug. "All of these benzos [benzodiazepines] start producing withdrawal problems in seven days. Within one month, people can become completely addicted," he said.
"The drug deprives you of your senses, resulting in psychological infancy. You have to take it in order to cope with life.
"Once you get hooked, you have to take more and more to get back to what you feel is normal. In the end, you can't get that normal feeling." After a year of being more or less permanently in psychiatric hospital, Dr Peart was made redundant from his job. Over the next decade, he was prescribed an array of other benzos, including Librium, Mogadon and temazepam, as well as anti-depressants and other drugs.
Although he tried to resurrect his working life, he was unsuccessful and his marriage broke down under the strain. After his divorce in 1981, Dr Peart moved to East Dorset where the cycle of withdrawal, admission to psychiatric hospital and more drugs continued. Over the years, he estimates he has experienced 36 ECT sessions.
In 1985, Dr Peart was admitted to a 12-step treatment centre, which turned out to be the beginning of the long, slow road to recovery.
"For the first two years, I suffered from insomnia, anxiety, fear and panic, with very poor short- and long-term memory. I had virtually lost all my life and social skills and I did little except attend 12-step meetings every day," he recalled.
He sold his house and travelled, and re-studied maths and physics to O-level and A-level standard, which helped his long-term memory return.
He still suffers residual problems including tinnitus, migraine, eye problems, blood disorders and poor memory and concentration.
In 1992, Dr Peart joined a legal action to sue the drugs companies. When he obtained his medical records, he was horrified to discover the doctors had known about his addiction since the mid-1970s and failed to tell him.
The action collapsed when legal aid funding was withdrawn. Dr Peart and others set up the organisation Victims of Tranquillizers which is still fighting for justice.
In 1988, doctors were told to prescribe benzodiazepines for severe anxiety for only two to four weeks. But prescribing levels of some, especially Valium (now prescribed as diazepam), are higher than before.
"There are just as many people on long-term use as there were 12 or 13 years ago. I've been free of drugs for 15 years , but it took me seven years to begin to feel I was getting my brain back," said Dr Peart, 67.
"I've got to accept what happened and move on. My satisfaction comes from helping others - there are thousands out there still suffering."
Victims of Tranquillizers, 01202 311689, is not a counselling service.
Anyone who thinks they may have an addiction should contact the East Dorset Drugs and Alcohol Advisory Service helpline on 01202 311600 or Tranx Line on 311500.
Benzodiazepines include Valium (diazepam), temazepam, Rohypnol, Halcion (banned since 1991 in the UK), lorazepam, Ativan and Mogadon.
The side-effects and addictive properties of benzos have been known since the 1960s.
Prescriptions peaked at around 31 million a year in the UK in the late 1970s and are now about 18 million a year. At least a million people in this country are dependent.
Reasons for prescribing benzos to people who have become addicted include menopause, stomach trouble, jury service, asthma, hay fever, thyroid problems, the death of a cat and exam nerves.
There are more than 500 reported side-effects from taking 'benzos'.
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