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The Scotsman
February 4, 2004

by Geoff Meade, European Editor,
PA News in Brussels

Chris Davies

Barry Haslam

Doctors were accused today of encouraging millions of people to become addicted to anti-anxiety drugs.

Prescription drugs are destroying more lives than heroin and crack cocaine, according to Euro MP Chris Davies.

He is demanding EU action to curb the use of "benzos" - benzodiazepines, commonly known as Valium, Librium, Ativan and Temazepam.

Widely prescribed by doctors as sedatives for anxiety, such drugs have created 1.2 million long-term addicts in the UK alone.

One of them, 60-year-old Barry Haslam, from Oldham, was in Brussels today to press his campaign for EU action.

Mr Haslam, founder of the Beat The Benzos campaign, said: "I lost 10 years of my life because of being prescribed these drugs. I still suffer the effects. I cannot even remember my children growing up and Iím determined that something is done."

He went on: "If youíre on heroin or crack cocaine there are places to go for help. But if you are a legal addict, there is nothing."

Last night Mr Haslam met EU Health Commissioner David Byrne urging Brussels to follow up European Parliament demands last year for new guidelines on the use of such drugs.

He said he first became addicted when he went to a doctor for help after a breakdown triggered by stress. He soon became addicted but was still advised to increase the dosage of Ativan.

"At one stage I was taking 24 pills a day, as prescribed by my doctor."

His wife Susan said: "He was suffering from withdrawal symptoms. He would sit on the bed at night and shake. And all the time he was told to take more and that there was no risk of an overdose. Now we know how dangerous these things are."

Mr Haslam has been "clean" for 18 years and now spends all his time doing voluntary work to advise prescription drug addicts.

"They come to me because there is nowhere else to go. There ought to be counselling and treatment centres but I was getting nowhere in the UK."

His MEP Mr Davies said: "This is a serious problem. Millions of people are being turned into lifelong addicts by doctors who continue to ignore prescribing guidelines.

"But because these people donít have to steal to fund their habit their plight goes largely unnoticed by society. What we have are drug addicts created by the health service and the social cost of family breakdowns is immense."

After the UK, Portugal is the second biggest user of "benzos" but all EU countries now report problems from the overuse of prescription drugs.

Physical dependence can start within four weeks of using such drugs with side effects including increased anxiety, aggression and insomnia.

Mr Haslam told the Commissioner that Brussels should be proposing strong health warnings on packaging, similar to warnings on cigarette packets, inspections of doctors' prescribing practices and the setting up of 24-hour helplines across the EU.

A Call for EU Guidelines on the Prescribing of Benzodiazepines, Barry Haslam, February, 2004.

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