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The scandal of the benzo babies

Also published in: "What doctors don't tell you"
July 1997, Vol 8 No4

by Margaret Bell

We hear so much about medical blunders that it seems unbelievable that a scandal involving more than one million children in the UK alone has been going on under our very noses since 1960.

This is the estimated 50,000 or more British children who are born every year damaged because their mother took benzodiazepines or tranquillisers.

Benzodiazepines (BZD) may not cause blatantly obvious anatomical malformations, but they appear to cause neuro-behavioural abnormalities. They may cause irreversible damage to the brain, central nervous system and hormone levels of the developing foetus.

For 30 years manufacturers have been warning to avoid these drugs during pregnancy. In the Physicians' Desk Reference, Roche and Wyeth Laboratories, manufacturers of Valium and Ativan, respectively, clearly state that both drugs should not be used during pregnancy unless there are compelling reasons.

Nevertheless, as many as 35 per cent of pregnant women are prescribed benzos for such trivial conditions as backache, nausea, or insomnia (Psychosomatics, 1989; 30: 25-31).

Benzo babies usually develop such disabilities as dyslexia, the movement disorder dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity (J Yanai, ed: Neurobehavioral Teratology, Elservier Science Publishers By, 1984).

Their problems are also compounded by a plethora of other ailments, such as chronic fatigue, ME, epilepsy, mental illness, pain and panic attacks. Research also shows that many of them suffer eye problems.

Other problems include undescended testides, craniofacial abnormalities, renal abnormalities, inguinal hernias, cardiac defects and stomach abnormalities (J Pediatrics, 1989; 114:126-31).

A study by Liv Laegreid and others at the Department of Pediatrics at Gothenburg University, Sweden, confirmed other research showing that there was a considerable increase in the risk of perinatal death in those infants exposed to psychotropic drugs, including benzos (Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand, 1992; 71: 451-7).

Benzos depress the respiratory system, and these children can suffer life-threatening episodes in which they are unable to breathe.

Furthermore, benzodiazepines may be linked to senile dementia (Dementia, 1992; 3:232-8). Anyone who doubts the potential of benzodiazepines to mimic the effects of senile dementia has only to recall the case of former Guinness head Ernest Saunders, who recovered from "Alzheimer's" as soon as he came off his tranquillisers.

Although no study has yet been done on these older children, the Council for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction (CITA) is now doing a survey of over 1000 women and their children in conjunction with Oxford University.

I have seen my own daughter suffer endlessly for 18 years as a result of the tranquillisers I was given in pregnancy. At birth, she had all the classic symptoms of a benzo addicted baby.

Today, although an adult she cannot tie her own shoelaces, has attention-deficit disorder and various dietary problems.

To date the medical profession refuses to acknowledge any connection between benzo use during pregnancy and physical or neurological problems in the resulting babies. Brain and nerve damage caused by tranquillisers in the womb cannot be "seen", and may not show up until puberty, so it is very easy to blame the victim and pass drug damage off as "bad behaviour" or "bad parenting".

Babies undergoing weeks of painful benzodiazepine withdrawal or suffering Floppy Infant Syndrome have been labelled "slightly premature".

Their withdrawal symptoms of "abnormal sleep pattern, high-pitched cry, tremor, vomiting (and) diarrhoea" (Pharmacotherapy, 1993; 202-11) are "a gastric upset". The swallowing difficulties are due to being a "fussy eater". The bedwetting, caused by the frequent urinary tract malformations, is passed off as a result of the mother's neurosis.

Nevertheless, the recent case of Georgina Thrower, the 8-year-old girl suing for damages in the womb after her mother was prescribed tranquillisers while pregnant, is now forcing doctors to sit up and take notice. Benzact, founded by mother Susan Bibby is also attempting to discover how many children have been affected: "Mothers like me will never stop fighting until it is acknowledged that the drugs our doctors gave us are the source of our children's problems."

Margaret Bell of Research for Victims of Tranquillisers.

CITA, Cavendish House, Brighton Rd, Waterloo, Liverpool L22 5NG · 0151 932 0102

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