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Plea for addiction warnings: Warning label on drugs
which contain benzodiazepine compounds

The Times
October 24, 1988
by Pearce Wright,
Science Editor

A label warning of possible addiction should be put on drugs which contain benzodiazepine compounds, the active ingredient of tranquillisers which are taken by more than two and a half million Britons in the form of Valium, Librium and Ativan.

The recommendation has been made by a group of members of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society which specialises in psychiatric drugs. Advice from the Government's Committee on Safety of Medicines, which drew the attention of general practitioners to dependence and withdrawal problems for long-term users of the drug, did not go far enough, it said. 'Benzodiazepine dependence is becoming increasingly worrying', the group said. The proposals, which are outlined in the Pharmaceutical Journal, describe as inadequate the prescribing policies of doctors, and say public education measures are insufficient to prevent people being damaged by the side-effects of medicines.

Patients forget verbal advice and throw away leaflets, so the group suggests a label on the drugs along the lines of the Government health warning on cigarette packets. 'The label is what the patient will see', it says. Doctor Peter Tyrer, consultant psychiatrist from Mapperley Hospital, Nottingham, told members of the group at a meeting in York that the strongest argument against long-term use of the compounds was their ineffectiveness. 'These drugs no longer work to any significant degree after four weeks'.

He reported a trial in Nottingham which compared the effects of benzodiazepine compounds with anti-depressants, placebos and methods of self-help.

At first all treatments did well but the benzodiazepine group began to differ from the others after four weeks. After 10 weeks those patients were the worst on all counts.

Prescriptions for tranquillisers total 25 million a year. At least 300 people in Britain have instructed solicitors to begin compensation claims for addiction from their long-term use.

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