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Joan E. Gadsby's Main Page

Joan Gadsby's Reply
to Michael Becker, Editor
North Shore News

July 10, 2000

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

July 10, 2000

Mr. Michael Becker,
North Shore News
Fax: (604) 985-2104

Re: Article North Shore News - Wednesday, July 5, 2000 "Prescribed Addiction Recounted"

Dear Michael,

Thank you for your article on my new book "Addiction By Prescription" just released by my publisher Key Porter, Toronto and which is internationally endorsed by experts in the field. My book which has been a two year plus project and based on 9Ĺ years of international research concerns not only my horrendous personal experience but the broader issue of the unconscionable and continued misprescribing, misdiagnosis and mistreatment surrounding these insidious drugs - benzodiazepines (tranquillizers and sleeping pills) - which is a significant problem here on the North Shore and throughout the world.

As you are aware, I have just returned from a 7 day major city publicity tour across Canada where my book has received an exceptional response and support from all media (I was advised Friday that my book is the non fiction choice by Chapters for August for their program "Write from Canada" which features Canadian writers in their superstores across Canada.

My book has followed one of my other initiatives to create public awareness and to effect much overdue systemic change - 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 CTVís W5 investigative program) which has now aired nationally on CTV. Currently as reported, 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.

The purpose of this letter is to clarify however, several points in your article by Vashti Singh which are incorrect, misleading and to some extent affected unfortunately by her apparent lack of understanding of the subject.

Regarding Barbara Gordonís best selling book "I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can" describing her chemically induced nervous breakdown caused by Valium, she states in the Afterword (pages 309-311) that she was "diagnosed schizophrenic, manic depressive, cyclothymic, borderline psychotic, agitated depressive and hysterical"... that she was "overmedicated" and that she has been "a victim of the individual and collective ignorance of a profession (i.e. medicine) that is essentially unmonitored."

She refers to the "greed, stupidity, immaturity and outright mistakes" - including "wrong diagnosis and prescriptions for inappropriate medications - of these inept practitioners" (the doctors).

She further states that she is "not generous enough of spirit to forgive or to forget the brutality of such a system" and describes her efforts in "fighting incompetence" (in the medical system).

She gives this as one reason she wrote her book asking "was (she) alone or had many OD'd on a tranquillizer?" She expresses concern that "the number of Americans being given large doses of tranquillizers is staggering", that they can be "anesthetics of the emotions" and that their "sudden withdrawal can precipitate psychosis, and in some cases death."

She further concludes that "because of her strong feelings about medical mismanagement, the prevalence of drug abuse - the softcare prescription pad variety" she felt she "had to tell her story."

All, of the foregoing is completely contrary to your reporterís conclusion that "Barbara's Gordon's battle was not with the pill pushers (i.e. the doctors) but herself." It would appear that your reporter never read Barbaraís book.

Hundreds of thousands of people in British Columbia, Canada and worldwide have become "accidental addicts" as I did and 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 2 decades to doctors, to pharmaceutical companies and to Health Canada but not to patient/consumers.

In my case, I was wrongly prescribed these drugs (Valium, Librium, Dalmane, Restoril, Serax) after my son died of a brain tumor Christmas of 1966 for over 2 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.

Furthermore, when I finally found out the effects of the prescribed drugs and went back to my former trusted family physician to ask him to help me get off them, he refused to help.

This horrendous experience which has cost me more than $1.4 million to date began my 9Ĺ years of rebuilding my health, my life and my family and my research into these drugs worldwide.

My career has included being a successful marketing executive for 28 years with 4 of Canadaís largest companies and as a former poll topping Councillor in North Vancouver District for 13 years. I was selected in 1994 as one of Canadaís 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.

Regarding several other points in the article which your reporter did not understand but which are supported fully by research, include the following:

  1. Psychiatric disorders can not be diagnosed when a person is on these medications (source DSMIV psychiatric manual) and in fact these drugs create psychiatric symptoms alter moods, create depression and cause drug induced anxiety. (Symptoms in my case disappeared when I was off the pills for 2 - 5 years).

  2. Emotional stability is affected by these drugs which anesthetize the emotions and seriously affect a personís own coping skills and the ability to be aware of the drugs side effects.

  3. Regarding alcohol use - I seldom drank before I was prescribed tranquillizers and sleeping pills but as research shows (Health Canada 1982) over 70% of benzo users become cross addicted to other drugs, primarily alcohol, to help them deal with the "mini withdrawals" between pills (I discontinued alcohol March 1, 1990).

  4. Regarding violent outbursts, documented adverse side effects of these drugs include paradoxical reactions, increased behavioural disinhibition, aggression and the release of hostility as I went through - regrettably not knowing why.

Some Further Facts:

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, apathy and a resistance to change 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 Womenís Health Bureau and the Attorney Generalís 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 brought in being 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 is "an urgent need to educate the medical profession" with "some of the worst problems of inappropriate prescribing occurring with well established medications such as benzodiazepines - tranquillizers".

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.

I have also presented in June 1997 to the North Shore Health Board. Regrettably, little concrete action has happened to date. I have requested meetings with CEO Bruce Harber on the subject.

  1. 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 at the University of London mid September this year with other worldwide authorities. To help create public awareness regarding benzos, Iím listing below a few other salient research facts for your readers.

    There are 4 elements of the benzodiazepine problem (i.e. Valium, Librium, Dalmane, Restoril, Serax, Ativan, Rivotril etc).

    • 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.

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

    • The severity and extended duration of withdrawal effects, both acute and protracted lasting up to 2 years or more (depending on years of use).

    • 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.

  2. Serious side effects have been known and documented for over 2 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.

  3. 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.

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

  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 and causes far more damage to the socio economic structure.

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

In forming the Benzodiazepine Call to Action group in 1995, I and others became affiliated with the International Victims of Tranquillizers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere throughout the world where there are 10 other groups committed to creating awareness and effecting systemic change on this serious health issue. Anyone wishing to join, can fax me at (604) 987-6063.

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 10 other groups committed to creating awareness and effecting systemic change on this serious health issue. Anyone wishing to join, can fax me at (604) 987-6063.

I am currently working closely with "tuned in" doctors and other stakeholders to effect the much overdue systemic change which is the implementation of my "Call to Action" chapter identifying obstacles to resolving the problem with concrete solutions.

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 peopleís lives. It was all known over 2 decades ago to pharmaceutical companies, to government and to doctors. But little has been done to address this issue. Is a Class Action Suit required to get Action?

Today, 10 years off these prescribed drugs the quality of my life has increased tenfold and I run 2Ĺ miles every day along the West Vancouver seawall - a key factor in my recovery.

Sadly and tragically as you know 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.

My book "Addiction By Prescription" has been targeted at 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 other stakeholders who are committed to positive change

I invite your readers to read my book "Addiction By Prescription" 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 you publishing my letter of response and relevant research facts to inform and educate your readers in a forthcoming issue of the North Shore News.


Joan E. Gadsby

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