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Iatrogenic Benzodiazepine Addiction


Report by Ralf Gerlach
Deputy Director of INDROeV
Münster, Germany
January 24, 2004

For the first time in Germany, a patient has claimed damages from his family doctor for iatrogenic addiction to benzodiazepines. Over a period of 17 years the patient had been given 650 private prescriptions for Rohypnol (active substance: flunitrazepam), corresponding to a total of some 19,000 tablets. A medical arbitration board awarded 75,000 Euros, a relatively large sum for malpractice cases in Germany.

This is the first time a German arbitration board has recognised inappropriate medical care as the cause of addiction to prescription drugs.

The Board characterised the harm done to the patient as "avoidable and a consequence of egregiously inappropriate care." While the arbitration board's decision does not serve as a legal precedent, it paves the way for similar claims in the future. It is estimated that some 1,400,000 people are addicted to prescription drugs in Germany, a great number of whom became addicted through substandard medical treatment and prescribing practices.

The German Health Department has long sought ways to minimise injudicious prescribing of medications that can cause addiction, including improvement of physician training in the field of addiction medicine. The threat of successful claims for damages, however, and the attendant adverse publicity, may prove to be a more effective deterrent.

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