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UK doctors aware patients are addicted to psych drugs


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"Last week, a survey by the Family Doctors Association found that four out of five GPs routinely prescribe drugs to patients whom they believe are addicted to them."


Is your doctor turning you into a drug addict?


By John Naish 2nd August 2011 www.dailymail.co.uk


These days, Laura Walsh, a 46-year-old mother-of-two, looks every inch the successful businesswoman, running three thriving cleaning companies in Bristol.


Her success has come only recently, however. For 20 years, Laura was in the grip of addiction to tranquillising drugs prescribed after the unexplained cot death of her baby daughter.


The pills were originally given to her in 1987 to help her cope with the loss of five-month-old Natasha. But they sent her spiralling into the depths of an addiction to medicines which almost killed her.


‘The doctors just kept giving me the drugs because it meant they had an easy life,’ she says. ‘But now I am clear of them, I just wish I had never taken them in the first place.’


There are many thousands of patients like Laura who are addicted to prescription pills — most typically, sleeping pills, antidepressants and painkillers.


Last week, a survey by the Family Doctors Association found that four out of five GPs routinely prescribe drugs to patients whom they believe are addicted to them.


Official statistics estimate that around 1.5 million NHS patients may be addicted in this way. Some have been kept on the drugs for as long as 20 years.


But Government efforts to tackle this urgent issue are in disarray, with experts claiming that ministers’ latest strategy reports are not worth the paper they are written on.


And one campaigning MP has exposed the fact that a leading Government adviser on the issue failed to reveal that he is in the pay of the pharmaceutical industry.


Laura Walsh’s story is typical of how the problem can begin.


When Natasha died, Laura struggled to cope, and turned to her family doctor for help.


He prescribed co-proxamol — a combination of paracetamol and a heroin-like opioid called dextropropoxyphene, which has painkilling and anti-depressant effects. A six-month prescription was then repeated routinely for the next ten years.


‘It was easy to get the prescription renewed again and again,’ says Laura.


‘The pills numbed your feelings, so the effect was initially beneficial — but I secretly became an addict.’


In fact, concerns over its potential addictiveness mean that since 2007, the Department of Health has been clamping down on co-proxamol’s use.



The problem of patients becoming addicted to prescribed NHS drugs has long been known, but it appears still to be on the increase.


A report from the Health Research Board last year found that the numbers being treated for ‘problem use’ of benzodiazepines between 2003 and 2008 rose by 63 per cent. Benzodiazepines — addictive Valium-type tranquillisers — are believed to be the main cause of addiction problems on the NHS.


In 1988, the NHS was warned that benzodiazepines should not be prescribed for more than a few weeks.


However, the latest official figures show that more than one-third of such prescriptions are for more than eight weeks. Many patients take them for years.


Put simply, taken long-term, the pills knock out the brain’s ability to make its own ‘feel-good’ chemicals. When an addicted patient stops taking them, they can crash into depression and suffer sweats and panic attacks.


On top of the human cost, there is a massive financial bill: the NHS spends £3 billion a year on tranquillisers and antidepressants.


In last week’s survey of GPs, many of the doctors said they had ‘inherited’ from previous colleagues patients who had been stuck on addictive drugs for years.


One doctor told researchers: ‘My primary care trust is more interested in budgetary management than in dealing with issues such as this.’


Many doctors complain that the only available patient support clinics are designed for users of street drugs such as heroin.


In May, the Government published two long-awaited reports on the issue, one by the National Addiction Centre, the other by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse.


But these documents did not call for strong action to cut GPs’ over-prescribing of addictive pills. Nor did they recommend the rapid establishment of support services for addicted patients. They concluded merely that ‘more research is needed’.


And the papers have been attacked by independent experts as ‘a total waste of time and money’. Professor C. Heather Ashton, one of Britain’s foremost experts in this field, says both reports are weak.


‘Neither produces a national picture of what is happening in the community,’ she says.


In particular, she says, they fail to recognise prescription drugs’ severely disabling withdrawal symptoms, that can even drive people to suicide.


Barry Haslam, 68, a retired accountant who for ten years was addicted to Ativan, a prescribed benzodiazepine drug, has an even starker opinion:


‘The authorities have got their head in the sand. They don’t want to see the extent of the problem.’ Barry, from Uppermill, near Oldham, Lancashire, was put on Ativan after a nervous breakdown.


He says the drugs have left him with hardly any memory of the decade that he was on them, and the harm they wrought still affects him.


‘I suffer from mood swings, pains in my limbs, headaches and slurred speech,’ he explains.


‘I also have chronic fatigue because my immune system has been damaged by the medication. I am exceedingly angry.’ In 1986, Barry vowed to stop taking the drugs after ‘a lucid millisecond’ when he realised that the drugs had turned him into a violent monster.



With no NHS support available, he weaned himself off the drugs at home over 15 months.


‘The withdrawal effects were horrendous,’ he says. ‘I was violently sick every day, and I lost half my body weight. I suffered hallucinations and became terrified of going out.’


Now he runs a support group for fellow sufferers, called Oldham Tranx, and has managed to get his primary care trust to support a benzodiazepine withdrawal service — the only one in the country to do this.


He, like others, remains concerned that the two new Government reports effectively whitewash the problem.


Adding to the debate last week, Jim Dobbin MP, the chairman of a parliamentary group on involuntary tranquiliser addiction, complained that the Government’s ‘independent’ advisor has received research funding from a drug company but did not declare this in his report.


In response to the growing protests, the Public Health minister for England, Anne Milton, has declared she will ‘act quickly’ to put in place services such as those run by Barry Haslam for addicts withdrawing from prescription drugs.


She admitted in an interview last week that prescription drug addiction is an issue that has ‘fallen through the cracks’.


‘We have known about the problem now for more than 20 years,’ she said.


‘For patients who have become innocent, unwitting addicts, the harm can never fully be reversed.’





This is a national scandal which has been covered up for decades. The main author of the NAC/NTA reports which will inform future policy is Professor John Strang who has an undeclared consultancy with Genus Pharmaceuticals who manufacture Ativan, a seriously addictive benzodiazepine tranquilliser and the subject of the reports thus invalidating them. Anne Milton and her Department and the RCGP conveniently call prescription drug addiction "drug misuse" even though the suspected 1 million plus addictions have been caused by doctors ignoring the 2-4 week guidlines issued by the British National Formulary, and in place since 1988. It suits everyone to blame the patients thus enabling inaction and the cover up to continue. Dr Heath, President RCGP received many letters from patients whose lives have been wrecked by these drugs and is cynically sending a two line dismissive answer "cut and pasted" to all of them. They just don't care.


- John Perrott, Lancaster, 02/8/2011 07:00




This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

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