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Valium Addiction

Wales On Sunday
April 14, 2002

AN EX-WALES rugby international who has seen his wife's life ruined by Valium addiction says anyone who prescribes the drug "should be shot."

Jennifer Robinson, the partner of former Cardiff and Barbarians' star Ian, has been addicted to the drug for a staggering 31 years.

She first took it when, as a 21-year-old, she became anxious about her job which was teaching physically handicapped children in Penarth.

"My mother was on Librium, which is a form of Valium, she gave me some and it had an amazing calming affect, I felt I could cope with life," says Jennifer. She went to a doctor, who prescribed Valium, and that's when her addiction began.

Until nine months ago Jennifer led a relatively normal life but things took a dramatic and bizarre turn for the worse after she decided to give up drinking her daily glass of wine.

"I was told if I came off the Valium it would cause more problems than it's worth so I kept taking it all those years," she says.

"Wine affects the same brain receptors as Valium so when the alcohol was taken away the Valium stopped working."

Abergavenny-born Jennifer says when she gave up drinking the effects were so bad she thought she was going "round the twist."

"I didn't know what was happening, I was talking gibberish and I thought I was going mad."

Her doctor put her on anti-depressants which did not work because he said she had become tolerant to Valium.

Now, as she attempts to come off the drug altogether, Jennifer says her withdrawal symptoms are so awful she can't leave the house on her own, can't sleep and is suffering shaking and anxiety.

"I don't recognise myself in the mirror anymore. I just want to run away from myself because every day is a nightmare," she says.

Former second row Ian, who won two caps for Wales in 1974 - against France and England - has forthright views after watching Jennifer suffer so badly.

"I think anybody who prescribes Valium should be shot," he says.

"A lot of doctors and psychiatrists see it as the be all and end all but it should only be taken for four weeks - an official report said that in 1988.

"It should be a drug for short-term use to solve a problem quickly.

"Her life is pretty traumatic. She's normally a happy-go-lucky person, the life and soul of the party, but now she's very inward.

"I tried taking her down the pub last week but she couldn't handle it and we had to leave after 15 minutes.

"I can't even leave the house now or go to some rugby games - which has been my life for 30 years - unless she's at her sister's. The furthest I can go is to the local pub which is 70 yards away and then I've got to take my mobile in case she has a panic attack.

"She's coming off it slowly but it's a strange drug to come off. She's reducing her intake by one milligram a fortnight, she's down to eight milligrams a day now, so she should be off it in four months' time.

"I can see some light at the end of the tunnel but she finds it hard to see that."

Ian, who married Jennifer almost nine years ago, has been suffering too in recent years and not just with Jennifer's condition.

After falling down the stairs a year ago he went to see a doctor who told him he had lower degeneration of the back caused by his rugby career.

Ian, who played 389 first team games for Cardiff between 1968 and 1984, was a sales rep but had to give that up because if he travelled for more than 30 minutes in his car he'd have terrible back pains.

The couple, who met 11 years ago, say Ian can't look for other work because of Jennifer's condition.

"Our quality of life is not good at all but I've just got to put up with it. I'm living the life of a hermit," says Cardiff-born Ian.

"I find it difficult to handle sometimes but I love her and you have to be patient."

Jennifer says she doesn't know how she would have coped without the help of her doctors who have been patient and supportive.

"Ian has been amazing, especially in the last year. He's my only way of getting out of the house and he's suffered as much as me.

"I don't feel any anger towards the doctors but I do feel angry against the drug companies who are making megabucks from this drug.

"Looking back I wish I found a different way of coping with stress. I wanted to tell my story to stop others going through what I'm going through."

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