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Paddy Doyle's Story

'Lives are being ruined by legal drugs'

Many people will have heard of Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), Dalmane (flurazepam) and will think of them as drugs which help people to relax when they are under stress or when a diagnosis of depression is made by a doctor. These drugs and other Benzodiazepines can and do cause addiction if used over a long period of time. The view of the British Medical Association is that such drugs should not be given to people for longer than four weeks – after which time the medication ceases to be of any benefit to the person taking it.

The harmful effects of the long term use of "sedatives" has at last come to light and people who have lived for many years on Benzodiazepines are now caught in the addiction or dependency trap. For them the struggle to get off these dangerous drugs is a hard one, they need support, they need great patience and in the process of reducing their drug intake then will experience some horrendous withdrawal symptoms.

Many will fail to get off these highly addictive drugs, but there is no shame in that failure, it is the result of ingesting chemicals which will over time have altered their body chemistry making them prisoners of "tranquillisers".

Benzodiazepines are dangerous when taken for periods in excess of four weeks. Take time to read the information contained on this website and remember that information is the best prescription.

Paddy Doyle
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Ireland's secret addicts

Ireland On Sunday, June 3, 2001
by Cormac Bourke

STRETCHED OUT on one side of his living room couch, bestselling author Paddy Doyle looks drained. He is paler, more tired and more subdued than those who have met him before would expect.

A sufferer of Idiopathic Torsion Dystonia from the age of eight, his condition leaves his entire body in constant spasm and has been likened by neurologists to doing an eight-hour gym workout every day of his life.

In recent weeks, however, he has begun a struggle which, he says, is worse than those he endured due to his disability or during his time in an horrific regime as an orphan in an industrial school – chronicled in his book, "The God Squad".

Paddy is trying to beat a 40-year drug dependency which has been legitimated by the medical profession.

Given that his condition has no known cure and no certain cause, it is surprising that he has spent 42 years on benzodiazepines, highly addictive drugs which are supposed to be prescribed for only four weeks at a time.

In recent weeks, he has broken down crying for no particular reason, a symptom he says is born of frustration and the effects of withdrawing from the drugs.

He turned 50 a fortnight ago and, while his wife Eileen says he is not the sort of person interested in a big bash, he was not up to partying anyway.

In use since the late 1950s, benzodiazepines are used as either tranquillisers or sleeping pills.


As long ago as 1988, the British medical authorities were warning GPs that, due to the addictive nature of the drugs, they were not to be prescribed for longer than four weeks. A number of circulars from Department of Health chief medical officer Dr Jim Kiely in recent years have similarly warned Irish doctors about the dangers of benzodiazepines.

According to GMS Payments Board figures, however, the numbers of prescriptions written for benzodiazepines has only fallen slightly in recent years.

In 1995, a whopping 848,000 prescriptions were handed to public patients by doctors, not taking into account prescriptions filled by those without medical cards.

In 1999, the last year for which figures are available, over 805,000 similar prescriptions were dispensed. In fact, the number of prescriptions for the well known sleeping tablet, Valium (diazepam) increased over that four-year period from 306,000 to 336,000.

In Britain, between one million and one-and-a-half million repeat prescriptions for benzodiazepines are written every year.

Like Paddy Doyle, tens of thousands of Irish people face an addiction which is sanctioned by the medical profession.

During all his 42 years on benzodiazepines, Doyle says he has never had a kidney or liver function test or had his heart checked for the effects. At one point, he was taking a cocktail of eight drugs three times a day, every day, three or four of which were benzodiazepines.

"No-one is supposed to be on more than one benzodiazepine at a time," he says. "I was on three or four at the one time."

"Benzodiazepines can cause an awful lot of damage, including excess sweating, weight loss and mood swings. Some can even cause depression, it seems, while others aggravate spasticity (spasms)."

His decision to give up benzodiazepines came after his condition worsened and the medical profession were unable to help him. Having read up on the drugs, he decided enough was enough.

Having begun to reduce his intake over a month ago, he says he is already feeling better and is less "jumpy and jerky".

"It's not going to take me that long but I won't do anything reckless. I think I'll be far less prone to spasms and mood changes.

"A psychologist friend said to me: 'Paddy, one morning you're going to wake up and realise you have been asleep for 40 years.'

"It's important to stress that I never robbed a single pill from any hospital press or anything like that. This was medication handed to me by medical people, who told me it was going to fix me up.

"The brain is the most complicated computer known to man and yet we're dabbling with it every day of the week and know almost nothing about it.

I think at this stage, having messed me around since the age of eight, it's time for the medical profession to put it right, or at least as right as they can. They turn people into drug addicts. It may even be worse then being on heroin or morphine.


"When people are so vulnerable, they go to their doctors and say they are not feeling right and the doctors tell them they are depressed. They suggest taking these tablets for a month and tell you that if you're still feeling bad, you can try them for another month.

"But after four weeks, these things are useless, never mind for four months, four years or in my case, 40 years.

"In fairness to doctors, people do expect to leave a doctor's surgery with a magic pill which will solve all their problems."

Limerick-based Dr Terry Lynch, the author of the controversial book Beyond Prozac, echoes Doyle's sentiments.

He says that, after media attention to the side effects of a benzodiazepine called Ativan in the late 1980s, a doctor he knew actually publicly apologised to his patients for prescribing benzodiazepines.

"If people are suspected of having a biochemical problems, like a thyroid problem, or are suspected of having diabetes, they are given a blood test. But thousands of people are diagnosed as having a biochemical disorder of the brain every week, without any test to prove it."

He says antidepressants, which are replacing benzodiazepines as the new panacea, are equally addictive.

"Doctors say these drugs correct a chemical imbalance but having studied the medical evidence, there is little proof of that. These drugs certainly change how a person feels. The older types of tranquillisers tend to sedate, while the more recent products stimulate the patients.

"A substantial number of people – I would say 20-30% – feel absolutely awful while they are on them.

"The medical profession says that antidepressants are 70% effective, but I don't believe that.

"Quite a number of people may get better on medication, but quite a number who are not on drugs get better as well."

'Lives are being ruined by legal drugs'

TENS OF thousands of people experience a similar hell to Paddy Doyle, imprisoned behind the bars of addictive drugs legitimated by the medical profession.

While addictions to painkillers such as codeine are common, the most debilitating dependencies are believed to be to benzodiazepines and anti-depressants.


According to Limerick-based Dr Terry Lynch, who has penned a controversial book on the topic called Beyond Prozac, history is repeating itself when it comes to addictions to legal drugs.

"There have been five or six groups of drugs which were introduced in the past and were not supposed to be addictive," he says. "Those include alcohol, opium, barbiturates, amphetamines, benzodiazepines and, now I fear, anti-depressants.

"We have been very slow to recognise the addictive nature of drugs. In the past, it has taken 20 to 25 years for doctors to accept that certain drugs are addictive. There was medical proof, but doctors didn't really want to explore that."

He says that the core of the problem is that doctors are "preoccupied" with finding a "drug" solution to mental distress.

"Over the past 50 to 60 years, the medical profession has decided to treat those sort of problems as an illness," he says. "The starting point decides the way of treatment. If it is an illness, it is treated with a drug. But if it were classified as something else, then other forms of treatment would be used.

"I feel that a lot of what is being called mental illness is an experience – human distress.

"If people aren't sleeping well, for example, there are ways of dealing with that other than a pill. I am in favour of more therapy-based treatment. A fundamental problem in medicine is that we doctors don't believe in that approach. The value of therapy is grossly underestimated. Doctors are suffering from a case of tunnel vision."


"The issues involved in the over-prescription of medicines are very serious and a more radical approach may have to be taken in the future.

"The direction of health care doesn't come from the Department of Health; it comes from doctors because they are the ones who decide which treatments are valuable and which are not.

"Patients need to be listened to and heard and they need time. But if patients were given that time, doctors would make less money."

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