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H O U S E   OF   C O M M O N S

APPGITA - All Party Parliamentary Group for
Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction

House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA


Information Supplied by the APPG on ITA
to Caroline Haynes, DWP Policy Adviser

March 10, 2009


Benzodiazepine Tranquillisers - Valium, Librium, Mogadon, Temazepam, Ativan - were introduced by the Pharmaceutical companies in the 1960s. The manufacturers promotional campaign made false claims for the safety and efficacy of these drugs. This led to the creation of a population of involuntary addicts that still exists today. Although manufacturers now provide proper warnings the problem has been perpetuated by the poor prescribing habits of doctors. Prescribing guidelines now restrict the use of Benzodiazepines to 2-4 weeks. Doctors routinely ignore this advice and leave people on these drugs for years and decades. Thereby they replenish the addict population which stands at 1.5 million. A further similar group of tranquillisers known as the Zed drugs; Zopiclone and Zaleplon have been introduced to which an estimated half a million people have become addicted.

By involuntary addicts we mean patients who have been initiated into these drugs by trusted doctors who have withheld information on the addictiveness and toxicity of these drugs. Involuntary addicts have had no opportunity to give their informed consent. They are completely separate group from drug misusers, who we refer to as voluntary addicts. The medical benefits of tranquillisers are small; they do not cure anything. They suppress the physical symptoms of anxiety for a short period of time.

Tranquilliser side effects are painful, intense and bizarre. They can be physical (1), neurological, and psychological. Addiction normally means addicts have to stop work. Withdrawal from tranquillisers is complicated and difficult. It is also painful and traumatic and addicts need specialised advice and continued support and re-assurance in order to successfully withdraw. Professor Heather Ashton (2) of Newcastle University has developed a slow-tapering method of withdrawal from tranquillisers that has been used successfully worldwide for fifteen years.

Involuntary Tranquilliser Addicts are normal people who are highly motivated to withdraw once they realise their addiction. Unfortunately the Department of Health constantly refuse to provide Tranquilliser withdrawal services both under this and the previous administration. We believe the Department of Health is badly advised on this issue and that their policy is dominated by the pharmaceutical lobby. Involuntary Tranquilliser Addicts are routinely refused treatment by the NHS and left to fend for themselves.

The Welfare Reform Bill is being piloted by treatment for voluntary addicts to hard drugs. We understand that if the pilot scheme is successful treatment might be extended to other groups.

We believe that withdrawal services for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction would have been an ideal pilot project for the Welfare Reform Bill. Involuntary Tranquilliser Addicts are generally enthusiastic when offered withdrawal support. Success rates are high – 60-70% and relapse rates are low. As the total number of Involuntary Tranquilliser Addicts is approximately 2 million this approach would, if successfully extended, significantly reduce the numbers claiming benefit.

Our experience from dealing with this issue is that Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction frequently leads to decades of unemployment. We recommend that research should be undertaken to find out the co-relation between tranquilliser addiction and uptake of Disability Living Allowance (DLA); we could assist in designing a study.

Cost of Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction

  1. Benefits. A tranquilliser addict would be on DLA, Housing Benefit/Mortgage Payment, Council Tax benefit and free Dentist, Optician and Prescriptions.

  2. Loss of Revenue and Output. Addicts are lost to the economy, like all addictions, involuntary addiction leads to the loss of careers, homes, and marriages.

  3. Cost to the NHS.

    1. Tranquilliser misdiagnosis. Side effects and withdrawal symptoms are often diagnosed wrongly as other illnesses, and many addicts end up on a merry-go-round of investigations and consultations for ME/MS/Alzheimer’s/Diabetes/Leukaemia etc. Tranquilliser side-effects and withdrawal often mimic psychiatric illnesses and addicts may fall under the control of psychiatrists to be prescribed further inappropriate mind-altering drugs.

    2. Benzo Babies. Ingestion of Tranquillisers by pregnant or lactating mothers can produce addicted or permanently damaged "Benzo Babies".

    3. Accidents. Tranquilliser induced clumsiness and cognitive impairment leads to accidents in the home, at work and road traffic accidents, and also falls in the elderly.

    4. Death. In years for which figures were collected by the Home Office, 1990-96 (3) (attached), tranquilliser death exceeded those of all hard drugs added together.

Treatment cost

Several charities treat tranquilliser addiction successfully using Professor Ashton’s approach. However, due to limited funds their capacity is small. Pam Armstrong of the Council for Information on Tranquillisers and Anti-depressants (CITA) from Liverpool have provided a costing of £2,250 per patient for 6-month withdrawal (4).

Our recommendation is that such clinics should be replicated throughout the country, with the co-operation of existing tranquilliser charities, with regional residential clinics for more difficult cases, with a 24-hours national tranquilliser helpline and funding for self-help groups.

Other successful tranquilliser clinics are; Battle against Tranquillisers in Bristol; Oldham Tranx, and an NHS prescribed medication nurse in Belfast, David McKeown. All these clinics are supported by their local MPs who are (in order): Claire Curtis-Thomas MP, Kerry McCarthy MP, Phil Woolas MP, and Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP.

We would also like to draw your attention to the similar problem of addiction to SSRI anti-depressants (such as Seroxat and Prozac) now also known to be addictive, toxic and with little or no efficacy. They affect an even larger group with more than 7.5 million people addicted. We believe the increase in Disability Living Allowance uptake can be partly linked to the epidemic of prescribing this group of drugs. SSRI withdrawal can be accomplished by a similar slow-tapering method which the tranquilliser charities have developed.

If the Welfare Reform Bill attempts to process prescription drug addicts as normal people we believe the attempt will be unsuccessful at some point as these people are unfit and unsuitable for a return to work scheme until they have undergone detoxification. Overlooking the evidence of prescription drug addiction would produce an in-built high failure rate for the WRB back to work scheme.

At £2,250 per head we believe Tranquilliser clinics would be extremely cost-effective in financial terms, for society, for the Department of Work and Pensions, and the Department of Health, and would save people from years of misery and ruined health.

Michael Behan
Parliamentary Researcher for Jim Dobbin MP
10th March 2009

cc. Phil Woolas MP
Kerry McCarthy MP
Alasdair McDonnell MP
Claire Curtis-Thomas MP
Professor Heather Ashton
Barry Haslam

1. Extracts from Articles in Medical Publication on the Physical, Psychological and Social Decline of Long Term Benzodiazepine Users. Dr R. Peart
2. Benzodiazepines. How they work and how to withdraw. Professor Heather Ashton
3. Deaths from poisoning. John Corkery Home Office Statistician
4. Estimate, Pam Armstrong CITA

Email Jim Dobbin MP
Email Mick Behan

For more articles, newsletters and information please see the main APPGITA page.


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