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Oldham Chronicle
April 5, 2005

Barry Haslam

PEOPLE who have been addicted to tranquillisers for up to 40 years are still not receiving adequate support, an influential group of MPs complained today.

The Commons Health Committee made the finding after taking evidence from former benzodiazepine addict Barry Haslam, of Oldham, who helped set up the town's first day centre to treat tranquilliser addicts.

Mr Haslam told the committee's inquiry into the pharmaceutical industry that there were people who remained addicted to the drugs having been first prescribed them in the 1960s.

He said: "I could take members of the committee to Oldham people who have been benzo addicts for 20 to 40 years.

"The only reason they are still taking their drugs is to keep withdrawal symptoms to a minimum."

The committee also heard claims that, nationally, there were still up to 1.5 million addicts.

Published today, the report concludes: "There is a lack of support and rehabilitation services available for people still addicted to benzodiazepine drugs, many of whom may have been first prescribed them in the 1970s or 1980s.

"Not a single NHS benzodiazepine rehabilitation clinic exists in the UK to this day."

The committee warned that prescriptions for antidepressants now match those of benzodiazepines when they were most popular, 25 years ago.

The report also warned that too many drugs were being prescribed before their side-effects had been fully researched.

It said that the pharmaceutical industry regulator had not been rigorous enough in controlling the prescription of controversial drugs and called for tighter restrictions in future.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) lacked the discipline and leadership to be effective, the MPs said.

Committee chairman David Hinchliffe, the MP for Wakefield, said: “The lives of millions of people have been improved by the medicines the industry has produced.

"However, we have developed an over-reliance on medicines. They have been over-prescribed and patients have suffered as a result.

"Like any industry, drug companies need effective discipline and regulation, and these have been lacking.”

Mr Hinchliffe added that doctors and other prescribers must also take their share of the blame for over-reliance on pills.

Mr Haslam said: "I am proud of the fact that Oldham has the first treatment centre for addicts, but it is not a residential centre. I just wish we had more centres like it and more recognition from the Department of Health.

"I fully agree with the need for discipline and regulation, but whether or not this will be achieved against the influence of the pharmaceutical industry I am very doubtful."

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