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Man's life 'blighted by pills'

York Evening Press
Monday, October 30, 2000
by Maxine Gordon

A North Yorkshire man, who claims his life has been ruined by tranquillisers, is demanding compensation so he can "live a little before he dies".

Michael Burkinshaw's call is being backed by his MP, Selby's John Grogan, who will be attending a high-profile conference on the issue of tranquilliser addiction this week.

Michael, 56, was prescribed the tranquilliser Ativan, a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and insomnia, in 1977.

Today, the drug is recommended for short-term use, but Michael took it for 18 years, before changing to the less-powerful Valium.

He claims he was never warned about the harmful side effects of Ativan and the subsequent problems of switching to Valium and blames the drug for ruining his health and his life.

He estimates he has 69 side effects, including extreme sensitivity to light, sound and temperature, chronic bowel and intestinal problems, muscle aches, vertigo and insomnia. He can barely walk and hasn't left his home since August.

The pain in his legs is so intense, that he can't bear anything to touch them.

"I haven't washed my legs for 12 months because I can't stand the pain," says Michael, who lives in Thorganby with his partner and carer, Maureen Barraclough, a former nurse.

Michael's struggle is echoed throughout the country. The charity Mind estimates there are 1.2 million people affected by addiction to benzodiazepines in Britain.

In 1994, a UK court action against drugs manufacturers failed after legal aid was withdrawn.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, The Beat The Benzos Conference will take place in Croydon, chaired by Oldham MP Phil Woolas and drawing experts on the problem from across the world.

Michael is too ill to attend, but Maureen will be speaking on his behalf, calling for compensation for benzodiazepine victims. She'd also like an inquiry to be held.

She said: "Any compensation should come out of the manufacturers' vast profits, not from the government using taxpayers' money."

Dr Reg Peart, founder of the campaign group Victims of Tranquillisers and a conference organiser, says the aim of the event is to raise awareness and reduce prescribing levels of benzodiazepine, which are rising. He also wants to see the drugs reclassified from class C to class A and the establishment of residential treatment centres to wean "addicts" off benzodiazepine and win compensation for ruined lives.

Mr Grogan would like to see an independent inquiry.

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