To Mary Heaton, Department of Health
Dear Mary Heaton,
I am writing regarding your responses to patients who have suffered as a result of negligent benzodiazepine prescribing and would remind you that many have endured prolonged suffering as a result.
I would dispute your assertion that the Department of Health takes this problem seriously as it has ignored it for decades and now seems to rely solely on two misguided and compromised reports by the NAC and the NTA.
One of the authors of the National Addiction Centre report on addiction to prescribed medicine, Professor John Strang, had a conflict of interest in that he has a consultancy with Genus Pharmaceuticals who manufacture lorazepam and oxazepam which are
benzodiazepine tranquillisers and are the subject of the report. Furthermore, Professor Strang made a false declaration when tendering for commissioning of the report.
This would have influenced his judgement in the writing of the report.
I have since noticed on the Department of Health website that the NAC report has had a “Statement of Interests” section added retrospectively on 22 July 2011 making the situation even worse, with a heading “Inadvertently omitted in original posting and hence added on 22nd July 2011.”
This occurred following the initial disclosure of this conflict to Chris Heffer, Director of Drugs and Alcohol Policy, Department of Health, on 8 July 2011.
It states on the report that declarations are still outstanding for four remaining authors and this shows that a declaration was not prepared in the first place. Therefore omission was not “inadvertent” but a deliberate decision to omit it in the first place.
Furthermore, all six authors would be aware that a declaration of interest was required with any piece of research work and therefore they were also party to the false declaration.
A proper declaration has still not been made stating that Genus Pharmaceuticals manufacture lorazepam and oxazepam, benzodiazepine tranquillisers.
Furthermore, you cannot make retrospective declarations anymore than you can get a retrospective MOT if you re caught without one.
The NAC report has been compromised by this breach of the Research Councils UK policy and code of conduct on the governance of good research conduct and the UK Research Integrity Office code of conduct for research and its integrity cannot be retrieved by a retrospective declaration.
I have informed Andrew Lansley MP, Secretary of State for Health, of this and I have also reported Professor Strang to the General Medical Council for misconduct.
Also, the Department, the NAC, the NTA are still treating this subject as substance misuse. These patients became addicted whilst under medical care. Secondly, benzodiazepine addiction bears no relation to opiate addiction. The benzo compromised GABA receptors can take a long time to regain affinity for GABA causing a multitude of debilitating symptoms which may last for years throughout which period patients need reassurance and support. This does not occur with heroin and is what distinguishes benzodiazepines from other drugs.
The report’s proposed 8-10 week withdrawals will cause untold suffering because this does not allow sufficient time for the receptors to heal; this also breaches the BNF guidelines which are there for patient safety and state that withdrawal can take up to a
year or more for this very reason. What is the point in having guidelines if doctors, the Department and its senior policy experts keep breaking them?
Neither the NAC nor the NTA have any experience of benzodiazepines and even in their specialist field which is opiates they do not have any experience of withdrawal; in fact they keep people on drugs by substituting street drugs with methadone and diamorphine. Professor Strang, the architect of the government methadone delivery system also has interests in Martindale Pharmaceutical, the leading UK supplier of
methadone and Auralis who manufacture diamorphine, and I would suggest that the entire government drug strategy is compromised by this.
There was also supposed to be a consultancy period with interested parties but the reports became policy the day they were published and were used for RCGP training and are now being referred to as though they are definitive.
Furthermore, the Department promised that Professor Malcolm Lader’s studies of 1980 showing that 7/14 long term prescribed benzodiazepine users had brain damage would be addressed in the reports but there is no mention of them and I wish to know why not.
I note that you mention input from current patients and would remind you that all correspondence from patients with experience and indeed anyone with experience including Professor Ashton and withdrawal charities continue to receive formulaic, placatory letters feigning concern and containing stock phrases as demonstrated in your replies.
The withdrawal charities are the starting point to address this national health scandal not illegal drug treatment centres which do not have even a basic understanding of benzodiazepine withdrawal.