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8 November 2007

The Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP
Secretary of State
Department of Health
Richmond House
79 Whitehall

Dear Alan

Addiction to Tranquillisers (Benzodiazepine Drugs)

My constituent Barry Haslam has asked me to write to you regarding the issue of over-prescription of tranquilliser drugs.

Mr Haslam has been campaigning regarding the issue of benzodiazepine drugs for some twenty-one years. As a former addict Mr Haslam was addicted to Ativan for some 10 years and as a result suffered hearing and thyroid problems, poor circulation and permanent brain damage.

It has been estimated that some 1.5 million people in the UK are affected by addiction to benzodiazepines drugs such as Valium, Ativan or Mogadon on a long term basis.

I am told that Home Office statistics show that some 17,000 people have died because of benzodiazepines in the past 40 years. Withdrawal symptoms range from the debilitating to the horrific: panic attacks, agoraphobia, depression, psychosis or severe cognitive impairment. All of which have all been recorded as experienced by victims as well as evidence of permanent brain damage.

Beat the Benzos was set up to work throughout the European Union with the intention to provide help to those affected and to campaign in their behalf. Specific intentions include the establishment of specialised withdrawal clinics, the publication of information packs and websites and a 24-hour helpline for sufferers.

This campaign activity is currently lobbying for the provision of withdrawal support through the NHS and to raise awareness of the risks associated with benzodiazepines. It is also pushing to enforce official guidelines regarding the prescription and usage of such drugs by GPs and psychiatrists and to update warnings accompanying such drugs so that they are similar to those in the United States, Australia and Canada.

Further to raising this in the European parliament and more recently with Commission officials, Mr Haslam has asked that I convey to you the details regarding the work done by Beat the Benzos.

It is Mr Haslam's view that successive governments have avoided responsibility for tackling the awesome problems involved and that as a result, he believes massive social exclusion and economic consequences for the UK have ensued.

In 1994 he received a letter from David Blunkett MP who told him that the current situation was a 'national scandal', and that he would seek to make it a priority once in Government.

I write to ask about current government policy in relation to the above. As you will know, campaigners are calling for the implementation of prescription guidelines by general practitioners and the provision of greater support services for involuntary and voluntary addicts of these drugs.

I would also be grateful for the Department's response to calls to conduct a review of disability guidelines to ensure recognition of tranquilliser addiction.

More details can be found at www.benzo.org.uk.

With best regards,

Yours sincerely

Chris Davies MEP
Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West of England
87a Castle Street, Stockport SK3 9AR
Tel 0161 477 7070 · Fax 0161 477 7007
Email chrisdaviesmep@cix.co.uk

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