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Halcion - The Nightmare Drug

by Max Ricketts

Health Store News, October 1991

The most popular and profitable sedative hypnotic in the world today is HALCION (Upjohn). However, data coming in from various sectors indicates that HALCION may present dangers as devastating as death.

Newsweek magazine recently carried HALCION as its cover story appropriately entitled: "Sweet dreams or nightmare?" The article centred on a case involving a women who had been acquitted of murdering her mother on the defense that she had been incapable of voluntary action while under the influence of HALCION. She subsequently sued manufactured Upjohn for $21 million. Upjohn settled the civil suit out-of-court.

Previously, the ABC television program 20/20 (Feb 89) and an article in California Magazine (sep 898) had increased public awareness of the potential problems of HALCION.

Most people mistakenly think that a drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must have been subjected to rigorous, objective, long-term testing. Unhappily, such is not the case.

Drugs are approved in America based on manufacturer-sponsored studies. In the instances of the BENZODIAZEPINE tranquilizer/sedatives to which HALCION belongs along with XANAX, VALIUM, LIBRIUM, TRANXENE, DALMANE, RESTORIL, among many others, these studies have been all short-term - often only four to ten weeks in duration.

Imagine the objectivity of a researcher employed for significant compensation by a drug company to evaluate his employer's drug. Imagine the incentive for the drug company to receive favorable results from these expensive studies.

The studies are evaluated by the FDA, which relies heavily on the integrity of researchers and drug companies.

Once drugs are approved, the system of post-approval monitoring is extremely informal. Complaints filter in to the FDA by means of voluntary drug-reaction reports submitted by clinical physicians in their practices. Predictably, only a very small percentage of adverse drug reactions lead to such reports.

A major complaint of benzodiazepine victims is that once the initial few days' or weeks' perception of calming passes, they are left with increased anxiety, insomnia, and depression - and drug dependency. That may be why the drug companies don't produce long-term follow-ups on these drugs. Maybe they don't want doctors, scientists, and especially the public to know how very dangerous their products really are.

Under a congressional-supported Freedom of Information (FOI) petition of this writer, voluminous data detailing internal FDA reports and memorandums were obtained on Upjohn's XANAX and HALCION. Features on the hazards of XANAX were previously run in Health Store News.

Incredibly, there is no evidence that the drugs XANAX and HALCION are safe, much less effective, over the long term!

Among the many adverse effects, which have been observed for HALCION, are amnesia, hallucinations, rage, violent and bizarre behavior, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and confusion. The longer the drug is employed, the more side effects may be expected.

The US General Accounting Office (GAO) and the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) have both indicated in separate reports that psychoactive pharmaceuticals are neither effectively evaluated nor universally safe.

The OTA noted last year, "Some drugs can permanently damage the nervous system. Damage may be so severe as to cause personality changes, neurological disease, mental illness, or death."

In cautioning about HALCION, the OTA advised, "Because of the inherent limitations in FDA's drug approval and adverse reaction monitoring systems, it is important that physicians and patients be aware of the possible adverse effects of the medications they prescribe and consume.

In an internal memo, a senior FDA official expressed concern that Upjohn has in the past submitted "poorly organized and confusing data" to the agency.

Newsweek noted, "Upjohn, for its part, has also done less than it could to promote caution. It has resisted labeling changes and has attacked unflattering research rather than face its possible implications. It has also worked assiduously to prevent full public disclosure of the data on reported side effects."

For some time the FDA has been aware that HALCION has had more adverse-reaction reports than any other sedative/hypnotic. The Public Citizen's Health Research Group; under Dr. Sidney Wolfe, has petitioned the FDA to require labeling changes to reflect the hazards of HALCION - including the fact that the drug becomes largely ineffective after two weeks' use.

There used to be a safe amino acid - L-tryptophan (LT) - that accomplished what the benzodiazepines and antidepressants such as PROZAC (Eli Lily) promise, but do not deliver. For many people, L-tryptophan, when used with vitamins C and B-6 and the mineral magnesium, affects positively the production of the calming neurotransmitter serotonin.

In the late 1989, the FDA removed L-tryptophan from the public marketplace. Today, without an investigational new drug permit, even a medical doctor may not prescribe L-tryptophan to a patient. The FDA has classified this amino acid, which is a constituent of food, a "drug" by virtue of its usefulness in treating pain and anxiety, insomniac, depressive, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. This ability has enabled LT to serve as a cheap, safe and viable alternative to dangerous drug therapy for hundreds of thousands of Americans. The FDA accomplished this by maneuvering the food item off the health store shelves.

The ostensible reason that L-tryptophan was removed was that product contamination of LT by a major Japanese chemical company caused several thousand Americans to become ill. Several dozen deaths were associated with the use of contaminated product. Although the fact that product contamination and not LT itself has been decisively demonstrated by several studies to have caused the serious condition known as eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, the FDA continues to keep all LT off the market.

That is in keeping with the FDA not-so-secret agenda to eventually remove all amino acids from health stores and to strictly regulate the sale of herbal products as well as vitamin, mineral, and other nutritional supplements.

Drug companies make a lot of money pushing pills. Benzodiazepines sell for more than cocaine and heroin. That purchases a lot of promotion and loyalty - loyalty that appears to extend within the locked corridors of the FDA. Aggressive medical marketing spearheads the highly profitable game of legal drugs: and the drug firms, which spend far more on promotion than on research, charge whatever the traffic will bear even when it is hundreds of times basic production cost.

Tranquilizers don't cure anxiety, nor do sedative hypnotics cure insomnia. Actually, in the fine print of their labeling, manufacturers don't pretend they do. The drugs all attempt to mask anxiety, insomnia, and some forms of depression. Being artificial chemicals, they are alien and toxic to the body. They all carry undesirable side effects. Unfortunately, what they eventually can deliver, when used long enough, is anxiousness, sleepless nights, and even suicidal depression.

Orthomolecular medical doctor, Dr. Edwin Bien, commented, "Unfortunately, clinical experience with HALCION, and other benzodiazepines as well, has shown us that the underlying anxiety and insomniac problems together with added pharmaceutical side effects often leaves patients even much more devastated over the long term. The history of the benzodiazepines has not been a happy one for many people...withdrawal from HALCION and XANAX and other benzodiazepines can be more difficult than from opiates such as heroin."

As noted before in Health Store News, the long tranquilizer/sedative voyage often becomes a journey into the darkest side of the twilight zone - another world's timeless hell for those that are lured there seeking calm and yet finding unrelenting heightened anxiety and abject misery.

Max Ricketts is a graduate of the US Naval Academy. He is an investigative health writer and the author, with Edwin Bien M.D., of the Great Anxiety Escape, a revolutionary program to escape from anxiety, insomniac, depressive, and drug related disorders. The book is available for $12.45, postage and handling included, from Matulungin Publishing, P.O. Box 2910, La Mesa, CA 91943. California residents, please add $0.72 sales tax or order from amazon.com. © 1991 Max Ricketts

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