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Oldham Chronicle
November 29, 2004
by Our Lobby Correspondent

Barry Haslam

OLDHAM is leading the nation in highlighting the misery of tranquilliser addiction, a powerful group of MPs has been told.

Phil Woolas highlighted Barry Haslam's "Beat the Benzos" campaign group when he appeared before Parliament's influential health select committee.

MPs are probing allegations that pharmaceutical companies and GPs ignored evidence and guidelines showing highly-addictive tranquillisers were being over-prescribed.

Up to 1.2 million people in Britain are thought to be addicted to anxiety-suppressing drugs like Valium, Ativan, Temazepam and Librium.

Mr Woolas, Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, asked the committee to use its far-reaching powers to subpoena documents from international drug firms Wyeth Brothers and Roche.

He used Parliamentary privilege to suggest the documents could contain evidence that the pharmaceutical companies suppressed information about the harmful effects of tranquillisers.

After the hearing, Mr Haslam said: "I am really pleased with Phil. He thinks we have a good chance of getting these subpoenas which would open the door and blow the case wide open."

Mr Woolas said Oldham was leading the way when it came to tackling the problems of people hooked on pills.

Oldham Primary Care Trust is the only health authority in England to offer a specialist treatment service for people suffering withdrawal symptoms after ditching tranquillisers, he said.

But he also said GPs were not sticking closely enough to Government guidelines aimed at preventing the over-prescription of tranquillisers, which is a multi-million pound industry.

After the hour-long evidence session, Mr Woolas told the Chronicle that the Commons inquiry was the "Beat the Benzos" campaign's biggest breakthrough.

He said: "We have been battling for five years to get an inquiry which looks into the damage these drugs have done to people and the treatment on offer to people who are addicted."

The committee is expected to publish a report within weeks.

Mr Haslam, of Uppermill, claims 10 years of his life were ruined by addiction to prescription drug Ativan.

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