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Letter to Lord Morris, House of Lords

Colin Downes-Grainger
March 7, 2009

Rt Hon the Lord Morris of Manchester AO QSO
House of Lords

7 March 2009

Dear Lord Morris,

I am writing this to you because of your historic interest in disabilities including promoting the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, and your role in setting up the independent public inquiry into the haemophilia debacle. That has been a sorry affair, particularly for those who received the contaminated blood and I understand why it was described by Robert Winston as "the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS". But I believe that in fact there is an even worse 'treatment disaster' which has been 'managed' and largely hidden over nearly 50 years the tranquilliser scandal.

Over the years well over 2 billion prescriptions have been issued for these drugs and there are today on the estimate of Professor C.H. Ashton at Newcastle School of Neurosciences, around 180 tranquilliser dependent patients per GP practice a total of between 1 million and 1.5 million patients. Most of these patients have been dependent for decades. Dr John Marsden who is a Government Adviser on Drug Addiction, and senior lecturer in addictive behaviour at the Institute of Psychiatry, said of these drugs in November 2007 on Channel 4:

"If any drug over time is going to just rob you of your identity and be an ironic reaction to early effectiveness, [leading] to long, long term disaster, it has to be benzodiazepines."

Many people have commented over the years on how destructive these drugs are in over-prescription and Dr Marsden is merely the latest, but as with the haemophilia disaster, successive governments have refused to hold any inquiry and have refused to introduce measures that would control prescribing. Today, following years of non-effective action and rejection, government appears to be following the line (expressed in a letter from Health minister Rosie Winterton), that patients should be tarred with the same brush as illegal users.

Professor Heather Ashton who ran a benzodiazepine withdrawal clinic in Newcastle for 12 years has been unswervingly supportive of injured patients and has been critical of government policies. Among many other things she has said:

"For some chronic benzodiazepine users, withdrawal can be a long, drawn-out process. A sizeable minority, perhaps 10 to 15% develop a "post-withdrawal syndrome", which may linger for months or even years. This syndrome is clearly not a disease entity; it probably represents an amalgam of pharmacological and psychological factors directly and indirectly related to benzodiazepine use. The syndrome includes pharmacological withdrawal symptoms involving the slow reversal of receptor changes directly induced in the brain by benzodiazepines, and psychological symptoms resulting indirectly from long-term benzodiazepine use, including exposure of poor stress coping abilities and other personal difficulties." Professor C Heather Ashton, DM, FRCP Newcastle University, School of Neurosciences 2004

"Withdrawal symptoms can last months or years in 15% of long-term users. In some people chronic use has resulted in long-term, possibly permanent disability." Professor C Heather Ashton, DM, FRCP Newcastle University, School of Neurosciences 2003

Professor Malcolm Lader, a former member of the Committee on the Safety of Medicines said these things over the years:

In 2004 the report of the Commons Health Select committee described the benzodiazepine situation as the legacy of a bad pharmaceutical company campaign. They said:

"Although much has changed in drug regulation and prescribing practice in the last decade, the over-prescription and subsequent widespread adverse events and 'therapeutic' dependence on benzodiazepines is perhaps a good illustration of the dangers of drug promotion by the pharmaceutical industry and under-regulation or over-reliance on industry self-regulation."

The legacy of that campaign still exists today, with uncounted thousands of people disabled, unable to work and unable to access any form of understanding.

There is no closure for benzodiazepine victims, no recognition of the damage that has been inflicted on them, no support in withdrawal, no economic support and no apology. The DWP does not recognise the severity of the drug-induced symptoms and damage reported by the affected, and so those injured live in constant fear of losing what little financial assistance is available from the state.

I am enclosing an online article I did recently, drawing some parallels between the situation experienced by haemophiliacs and that faced by tranquilliser victims and I hope you can find time to read it. Obviously I cannot expect you to take up arms against this sea of troubles, but I would like you if possible to become aware of another NHS scandal one which has so far had no positive outcome for patients.

Yours sincerely,

Colin Downes-Grainger
March 7, 2009

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