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The Nightmare Pills –
How Millions are Caught in
the Tranquilliser Trap

Today, May 7, 1986
by Dr Vernon Coleman

The latest confidential statistics from the Department of Health and Social Security show that in the last 12 months for which figures are available about 30 million prescriptions were written for tranquillisers such as Valium, Librium and Ativan.

It is easy enough to explain why doctors started prescribing tranquillisers 20 or 30 years ago. At the time they seemed a perfect answer. Barbiturates were going out of fashion. And doctors were beginning to recognise that stress related diseases are common. Tranquillisers such as Valium seemed to offer a safe solution. But it is more difficult to explain just why doctors continue to prescribe these drugs today.

For the surprising fact is that for some time now the drug companies have been warning doctors that they are NOT suitable for long-term use. My own estimate – which has not been disputed by anyone from the medical profession, the DHSS or the Home Office, is that there are about 2,500,000 tranquillisers users in Britain.

And many say they are just as difficult to come off as heroin. Joseph Tutt is not the only patient who is so angry that he is suing his doctor.

Two other readers of mine have already consulted solicitors and begun legal action. And dozens more have written to tell me that they are planning legal action.

If Tutt is successful many patients who have been given tranquillisers or sleeping tablets and whose lives have been devastated or damaged in some way could have begun proceedings within months. And it will be their doctors they will sue, not the drug companies. Some ten or fifteen years ago the drug companies were promoting products of this type with unqualified enthusiasm.

And doctors could hardly be blamed for believing that these drugs were both effective and safe. But for years now there has been no such excuse.

Drug companies making these products constantly warn doctors not to allow patients to take them for more than a week or two. They advise doctors not to make these drugs available on Ďrepeat prescriptioní. Evidence showing that these drugs are addictive and potentially dangerous has been accumulating rapidly since the early 1970s. Numerous research papers have been published showing that products in this group can cause problems such as memory loss as well as anxiety, depression and sleeplessness.

Ironically, these are the three symptoms for which they are most commonly prescribed. The Committee on Safety of Medicines has received reports showing that these drugs are well known to cause well over 100 different side effects. Earlier this month the DHSS and the Home Office publicly admitted that the size of Britainís tranquilliser addiction problem is worrying them by bringing these drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 – the same legislation that controls drugs such as heroin. And yet thousands of doctors donít seem to take any notice. It may be true that many still donít know what else to do for patients who are suffering from anxiety or stress-related diseases. The only conclusion I can draw is that several thousand British doctors do not read articles in the medical journals nor do they study literature which is published by the drug companies.

These painfully ignorant doctors have between them created the biggest drug addiction problem this country has ever known. Itís their addiction to prescribing these terrible drugs that has given us a nation of junkies. If Mr Tutt – and others like him – win, the medical profession could be facing several million very expensive lawsuits and its biggest crisis in modern history. The flood gates will have opened. Dr Coleman is the author of over 30 books including Addicts and Addictions. The paperback edition of his latest book. Life Without Tranquillisers, was published two months ago. Since then he has received more than 6,000 letters from users who, he says, are angry enough to sue the doctors that put them on the road to addiction.

Extracts from: "Life Without Tranquillisers", Dr Vernon Coleman, MB, ChB, DSc (Hon), 1985.

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