Email from Michael Behan to Anne Milton, MP (13 December 2010)

Anne Milton M.P.                                                                                          Michael Behan
13 December 2010

Dear Anne,

Further to the meeting at Richmond House on 8th December.2010 I have attached as requested this link http://www.benzo.org.uk/amisc/mrc82.pdf providing

the evidence presented by Professor Lader to the Medical Research Council in 1981 connecting brain damage with benzodiazepine use. I am also providing a link to the recent article in the Independent on Sunday which investigated this issue. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/drugs-linked-to-brain-damage-30-years-ago-2127504.html

Although this information is 30 years old it requires an urgent response from the Department of Health; patients have complained continuously over this time of permanent injuries from these drugs. I am disappointed that neither Departmental officials nor Leigh Henderson from the MHRA had brought this issue to your attention in preparation for the meeting on involuntary tranquilliser addiction.

A second point of contention at the meeting was the absence of prosecutions by the MHRA of pharmaceutical companies for withholding safety information. Leigh Henderson insisted that the MHRA had prosecuted pharmaceutical companies in the past  which is not true according to the following answer in Hansard:

Jim Dobbin: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many pharmaceutical companies have been prosecuted for withholding information regarding their products since 1992. [196407]

Dawn Primarolo [holding answer 25 March 2008]: I have been asked to reply.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) records show no prosecutions of this kind since 1992.   (End of Hansard)

This issue is relevant because the benzodiazepine manufacturers obtained their original product licences by withholding information in the U.K. regarding the dangers associated with their products.

A third point of contention was whether or not a current SPC data sheet is available for lorazepam tablets; Leigh Henderson insisted one was available on the MHRA authorized Electronic Medicines Compendium (EMC) website

http://www.medicines.org.uk/EMC/searchresults.aspx?term=lorazepam&searchtype=QuickSearch

This link shows that the only available SPC is lorazepam injection. This issue is  important because lorazepam is one of the most addictive and dangerous of the benzodiazepines yet no proper warnings are available for prescibers. Lorazepam is ten times the strength of diazepam; it often requires a withdrawal period in excess of one year and is associated with deaths, protracted withdrawal and permanent damage.

I was disappointed by the standard of advice available to you at this meeting. None of your advisers, Leigh Henderson of the MHRA, Rosie O’Connor of the National Treatment Agency or Chris Heffer of the Department’s addiction policy Steering Group, appeared to have any detailed knowledge of tranquillisers or tranquilliser withdrawal. Professor Heather Ashton is Emeritus Professor of Psychopharmacology at Newcastle University and a leading world expert on tranquillisers and tranquilliser withdrawal. Professor Ashton developed the slow taper withdrawal method based on a scientific understanding of the pharmacokinetic properties of each drug. This method is used safely and successfully by the UK charities and worldwide and has been adapted for use with all psychotropic drugs. Professor Ashton’s work remains largely unrecognized by the NHS; when Jim Dobbin MP referred to her work at the meeting none of your advisers recognized her name. Jim Dobbin has asked me to say that he was shocked and surprised by this lack of knowledge some 17 months into the policy review. Lastly I would like to take issue with a recent statement made as part of a Parliamentary Answer to Andrew Griffiths on 18 October 2010;

“Drug addiction is a long-term chronic relapsing condition.”

Please can you clarify whether the department intended this pronouncement to apply to involuntary tranquilliser addiction?  The All Party Parliamentary Group on Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction has encouraged the policy review to look at the work of the existing tranquilliser withdrawal charities in Liverpool and Bristol and the NHS clinics in Oldham and Belfast which have success rates as high as 80% at a low cost. Psychological theories of addictive personalities are inappropriate when dealing with prescribed therapeutic dose tranquilliser addiction which is a physical addiction caused by the properties of the medication. The current NTA commissioned practice of abrupt 3-week tranquilliser withdrawal is dangerous and likely to be unsuccessful. The APPGITA has recommended that the NHS should use the existing clinics to set up pilot tranquilliser withdrawal projects. For this reason Jim Dobbin MP recommended at the meeting that the NHS prescribed medication nurse David McKeown of Belfast should be invited to join the Department’s Steering Group. Additionally, we would like to suggest you also consider inviting a recovering ex-tranquilliser addict to become part of the Steering Group. This would be in accordance with the Coalition’s newly announced drug strategy.

Jim Dobbin and I would like to thank you for facilitating this meeting and for the attention you have given to this issue. We both look forward to working with you on this issue and involvement in the consultation period to which you referred,

Yours sincerely,

Michael Behan, Researcher for Jim Dobbin MP

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