Earl of Sandwich speaks on prescribed drug harms in the House of Lords

The Earl of Sandwich yesterday spoke in the House of Lords in a debate on the Psychoactive Substances Bill:

I link this discussion directly to the related problem of prescribed drug addiction, which the noble Lord, Lord Patel, kindly mentioned in his contribution and which the Home Affairs Select Committee linked it with in its report 18 months ago. Here I declare an interest because, as some colleagues will remember from the Health Bill and before, a member of my family has for several years been severely affected by withdrawal from prescribed medicine. Incidentally, patients in this category must not be stigmatised because most are following doctors’ orders and doctors can get it very wrong. Some doctors deny that the prescribed drug has caused the problem at all. Patients are then left to cope with withdrawal on their own.

My points are very simple. First, addiction to medicines is every bit as serious an issue as legal highs and controlled drugs. The negative effects of legally prescribed medicines can be devastating and they potentially affect many more people than controlled drugs given the vast number of prescriptions issued every year. Of course, the same point was rightly made about alcohol.

Secondly, while huge resources are rightly devoted to criminality, virtually nothing is spent on prescribed drug addiction because it appears that no harm is caused to society; it is society that is causing the harm. Yet a mere handful of charities are coping with increasing numbers of desperate people who become dependent and cannot easily withdraw. Despite the—I am afraid—feeble efforts of the Department of Health and a few exceptions among primary care trusts, the devolved NHS and three successive health Ministers have virtually ignored the problem, having shown a lot of enthusiasm to begin with.

I refer to a fact-sheet produced by the Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry for a meeting of APPGITA, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction, founded by the late and respected Jim Dobbin, of both of which organisations I am a member. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned some of these points. In England alone last year, there were over 80 million prescriptions for psychiatric drugs. Almost 10 million people in the UK, or around 15% of the population, are taking tranquillisers, antidepressants or other psychiatric medications at any given time, all of which have the potential to create addiction or dependence. Some 57 million prescriptions were issued for antidepressants in 2014 in England, which is a rise of over 500% since 1992; 11% of women and 6% of men are taking them regularly.

The prevalence of depression has not risen since 2003, but prescription numbers are increasing because more patients are taking antidepressants for longer. Over 1 million people are long-term users of tranquillisers, including sleeping pills, despite clear guidance that they should be used for no more that four weeks. Tranquillisers, antidepressants, antipsychotics and other psychiatric drugs can all be helpful in the short term, but long-term use—as with cocaine, cannabis or alcohol—is associated with serious harm. Furthermore, a large number of patients suffer debilitating symptoms for years following withdrawal from prescribed drugs, while some are left with symptoms that may persist indefinitely.

The government response to the Select Committee report, published last May, draws attention to various half-hearted attempts by the Department of Health to deal with the problem of prescribed drugs. However, it welcomes, as I do, the initiative by the Board of Science of the British Medical Association, which is at last undertaking a long-awaited report on involuntary dependence on prescribed medicine. This report, when it comes in October or soon after, will undoubtedly have enormous influence on the Government’s attitude to this whole issue. But it will be too late for some of the withdrawal charities. One of them, CITA in Liverpool, had to close recently because of a lack of funding, following changes in the NHS. There are only a handful of these charities. Another closed last year in Cardiff for similar reasons, and the saintly counsellor who ran it now finds herself unable to find alternative employment because the negative effects of prescribed drugs are just not a priority for the local clinical commissioning group.

Patients depend on a frail voluntary service. There are fewer than 10 charities groups that provide support to individuals trying to withdraw from benzodiazepines. They are currently located in Belfast, Bradford, Bristol, Camden—only in Camden, in the whole of London—Cardiff, Liverpool—at least there was one in Liverpool—Manchester, north Wales and Oldham. Only three of these support individuals withdrawing from antidepressants and none specialises in withdrawal from other psychiatric drugs.

The Government have a particular duty to provide appropriate services for people who have been harmed by medicines supplied through the NHS, yet they are clearly failing to do so. Guidelines need to be updated to reduce overprescribing, and support services need to be introduced across the country to help affected patients withdraw slowly and safely. Doctors need to be properly trained to recognise these harms and to provide appropriate support. More research is needed to investigate the harms associated with long-term use.

33 Responses to Earl of Sandwich speaks on prescribed drug harms in the House of Lords

  1. Melanie Davis 10/06/2015 at 4:30 pm #

    As the manager of the service in Camden quoted REST (Recovery Experience Sleeping Tablets and Tranquillisers) Mind in Camden I would like to commend the Earl of Sandwich for his tireless efforts on behalf of those suffering with dependency to prescribed medication.

    Not for the first time has he raised this issue in the House of Lords and I hope that the message that more projects are needed to support those withdrawing from psychotropic drugs is heard and responded to.

  2. Brooke Howard 10/06/2015 at 7:40 pm #

    It’s about time. Thank you.

  3. Anthony Connelly 10/06/2015 at 8:41 pm #

    An issue that needs to be considered thoroughly. This market is driven by profits, not for the improvement of health.

  4. Laura 12/06/2015 at 1:43 am #

    I’m so glad somebody speaks up about this. I’m a patient, former full time employee of a reputable company. My life has been completely disrupted because of antidepressant withdrawal symptoms.

    I’ve been though the most traumatizing physical and mental symptoms. Every doctor I spoke to during this experience discredited and denied what I experienced. I’m unable to work, my finances are difficult and I am unsure when I will get better.

    The worst part is: I wouldn’t have needed the medication in the first place. I was experiencing normal life stress.

  5. Susan Hayward 12/06/2015 at 8:45 am #

    Very informative debate. Well done to Earl of Sandwich.

    Please continue the fight in Parliament!

  6. ang 12/06/2015 at 2:04 pm #

    Well said… keep trying. I used to have a family, security, a career, a life……. until effexor. So from age 46-56 while on antidepressants, I thought I was well. Ended up on disability, and homeless with one son……… Off the drugs, what a nightmare, to finally regain my brain, realise I was nutty on their drugs, finally got help with housing, and finally employment a few days a week. These drugs destroyed me, my life, my self esteem, my previously very bright and creative brain (was dux of a school of 1600 students)….. I was bright, clever, kind and caring….. effexor? devils tic tacs. Zoloft? I had a child with HLHS, died after 3 days, died in agony…… The pills are evil, and to find out they never been tested for use during pregnancy? YES I AM ANGRY!

  7. Peter Hayes-Davies 15/06/2015 at 11:43 am #

    Thank you very much for your continued efforts on behalf of those of us suffering from the effects of benzodiazepine dependency, as well as those of us caring for them. I have written many times to the DoH who refer me to the local CCG (Cornwall), who in turn refer me to the Drug and Alcohol team. These people have neither the expertise nor the funds to help and our GPs’ knowledge is scant, so we are left on our own, supported by the two Bristol groups and friends on FaceBook. It is clear that the DoH is effectively neutered by the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry and will do everything in its power to avoid the risk of legal action and paying compensation. It is comforting to know that someone is fighting on our behalf.

    • ang 15/06/2015 at 12:30 pm #

      Yes his efforts are welcomed. But not only are benzos evil…. I believe SRNIs are more so…….. as they do not just “blunt the emotions”, they change the personality….. After 12 months off effexor, after 6 months of unbelievable walking thru hell, I am healing…… yes I can now cope with the loss of a marriage (childhood sweethear, 30 year marriage), the loss of finaces, the loss of self esteem, the loss of my brain….. After 12 months I am so grateful the Australian Government has supported me with a disability support pension, for about 6 years, I am so grateful I finally have homeswest housing, so my son and I are no longer homeless. My dream? I can sue Zoloft for the death of my baby, that I can sue Effexor for destroying my life age 45-55…….. if I could sue, I would happily give it all to the Australian Government for supporting me and my son, while I heal.

  8. ang 15/06/2015 at 12:35 pm #

    USA? I feel so sorry for my fellow victims……. God bless! How many victims have the money to sue? NONE! Just be honest………………. I am so grateful I am supported in Australia, by welfare, until I heal, and I will work I will contribute, happily, with just enough to live on……… Why? Because I am so grateful the Australian Welfare system supported me……….. when the real villain? is USA pharma greed, corruption, and damn I will spend the rest of my life proving it.

    • J 16/06/2015 at 8:09 pm #

      Really? The USA? I have been damaged by paxil, could i blame usa too? Its a british company although the generics all these years were from canada and india. Get a grip and stop blaming everything on your usa scapegoat. Most meds are made and invented in Europe. I guess i should blame the us for all the lifesaving drugs that are keeping friends alive right now that are beating cancer for 10 years now. WANTING to be on welfare and WANTING to sue is typical of an entitled liberal nutbag.

      • ang 20/06/2015 at 12:45 pm #

        Hi J, why HAS everyone got cancer in the USA?

    • Someone 18/06/2015 at 9:40 am #


      US citizens are being attacked by the psycho / pharmaceutical industries’ fraud, too – and these companies are multinational, not just from the US. And there’s no help in the US with withdrawing from these toxic pharmaceuticals either, and the doctors are in denial of the adverse effects of their drugs, and covering up their errors with more errors. Come heal / get your anger out with us at the Mad in America website.

      Thanks to the Earl of Sandwich for pointing out “virtually nothing is spent on prescribed drug addiction because it appears that no harm is caused to society; it is society that is causing the harm.” It is the greed of the medical, pharmaceutical, and government officials that is causing the harm is right.

      • M, Salima Hitchcock 22/07/2015 at 4:46 am #

        I have read your comments often after reading blogs on MIA (madinamerica.com). You always have something of substance to say. And… to the UK and anyone who does not know… MIA is such a very important website..initiated by R. Whitaker. The numerous professionals; former psychiatric patients (now activists), psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, social workers, child behavioral specialists, psychotherapists etc.etc. writing blogs. I’ve learned and am learning so much. US, UK, European psychiatric professionals researching, writing, speaking, leading this very lost “profession” towards Reform!! Read their books and blogs: Peter Breggin, Whitaker, Peter Gotzsche, Bonnie Burstow Joanna Moncrieff, Philip Hickey, James Davies, dear Dr. HeatherAshton (online…The Ashton Manual, on YouTube) and Barry Haslim (benzo.org.uk) etc.etc They have the clinical experience, have done the research…..and the patients themselves?? The tragic Evidence Base.
        Also, Every Doc should have Dr. Breggin’s “Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry:Drugs, Electroshock, and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex” It’s one of my main Reference books. Another at present: R. Whitaker’s Anatomy of An Epidemic.

        • ang 22/07/2015 at 1:40 pm #

          I read the anatomy of an epidemic……….. lots to cope with……….
          thanks for other references…………
          As a pathologist/phlebotomist…….. I am also realising the three Ms Merck, Monsanto and Microsoft, are all evil…………. gone are the days of genuine care of patients, all now is now self fulfilling greed……. I also just realised M is the 13 th letter of the alphabet, how so, so true xxxx
          no not nuts now, off the drugs………. had a 60% day today, after damn 12 months of hell…………

        • ang 22/07/2015 at 1:53 pm #

          And there is no help anywhere…. to kick the habit…. I went to drug rehab counselling, but just not the right place…. they tried, but wasnt very useful to me….. I needed a place to go to, so my son didnt have to see me suffer, didnt have to see me a slob in a filthy dressing gown, who could not even shower……….. I am so grateful to be over the worst of it……….
          but to go to hospital? no thanks,,,,,,,

  9. Multi 15/06/2015 at 1:56 pm #

    Well done, although the main problem here is forgoten, the problem starts with the delusion sufered by the “professionals amongs them Psychiatrist that insist in diagnose people with a manual DSM.. base in false information. Most of the time people could heal by paying attention to allergies, nutrition a good personalized physical medical check, human support etc.. The actual psychiatry is a complet dissater, and the risk in tackling the drugs only can provoke at even worst application as Ect and neurosurgery without even authorization from the patient. I DO AGREE THESE DRUGS HAVE TO STOP BUT IN PARALLEL THE ACTUAL WAY OF DIAGNOSING MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS NEEDS TO STOP AND MAKE A RADICAL CHANGE. We need to be aware of how things can be twisted to end up again in human abuse, specially in children. US has a responsibility for their bad doing but the other countries have their own responsibilities psychiatrist and doctors make their own decissions and it happen to be that this tremendous abuse is going on in most of the western countries.

    • J.Hill 10/04/2017 at 1:53 am #

      Agreed, but there is more. It’s not only western countries; it is in China as well. I asked the Chinese person who contacted me: ” How is this possible?” He responded that western medicine has seeped into China, and where there is western medicine, there are benzos.

      Control of prescribing won’t stop this carnage. Only the public refusal to accept the prescription will cut off the problem. This requires knowledge of verifiable facts and not medical prejudice posing as fact. For this reason, I don’t expect a government to be the solution. Widespread knowledge provides the path.

      No demand= no sales

  10. Kerry Powell 18/06/2015 at 7:12 am #

    I would like to able to Speak with ang in Australia as I to am a victom in Ausralia

    • ang 20/06/2015 at 12:50 pm #

      hi you will find me on the website surviving antidepressants
      My son is visiting, and he tells me how awful I was on the drugs, and I was. He also tells me his father and his fathers new partner, are also on the drugs.
      My son is honest, I am better now, totally depressed, but rational, than I ever was on effexor, the devils tic tacs. I agree. I like having my brain back…. I have only been in the depths of hell for six months, and am now improving. Those people that say being on disability is great? NO! I was a pathologist, a librarian, I was respected, employable, was a chemical analyst, did a Diploma in Art and Design, studied computing, all while raising 4 kids. I had a life. I hope I can find that old life again……… The pills destroyed me.

      • ang 20/06/2015 at 12:53 pm #

        I also had my own home, my own business…………… The pills destroyed all that, now I am in government housing, and damn grateful. If only I can meet those horrific pharma people in hell, they know. Greed, greed, tis all. Get everyone addicted, and wow, what money they make!

    • ang 22/07/2015 at 1:43 pm #

      hi kerry I am on surviving antidepressants just google surviving antidepressants…….. I am ang…….. I live in Western Australia……. many many people on that international site, live in Australia, please go there, it is very very helpful………….. My own timeline, my own thread? I can not even re read it yet, I was so sick when I found that site.

    • ang 22/07/2015 at 1:55 pm #

      Kerry how are you travelling? are you OK? angelaoffer@hotmail.com

  11. Brenda Scullion 19/06/2015 at 12:27 am #

    Thank you for raising this important issue. I worked as a psychiatric nurse for 37 years. For the last 10 of those years I worked tirelessly to educate people on the harmful effects of long term use of psychotropic medication.
    I raised the issue with 3 senior nurse managers, and with two people from professional standasds who shrugged their shoulders and said there is nothing they could do.
    I spoke with a consultant psychiatrist who told me that “it wasn’t the way he was trained”.
    I have seen at first hand the damage these medications can cause.
    It saddens me more than I can express how many of my professional colleagues cannot see this.
    Please keep up the good work.
    In Gratitude
    Brenda Scullion

    • Peter Hayes-Davies 20/06/2015 at 11:44 am #

      I have heard your views echoed by other psychiatric nurses, and seeing the damage at first hand entirely endorse your comment. As a unqualified outsider, I find it astonishing that despite the many studies demonstrating the dangers of benzodiazepines, and the clear guidelines for their use, psychiatrists and GPs still misprescribe these drugs. The precise application of these drugs and the dangers of misusing them have been established over many years. Denying these seems positively perverse.

  12. J.Hill 18/07/2015 at 9:19 pm #

    It is heartening to hear this clear description of and call for official aid to the many people so grievously afflicted by following their doctors’ directions to use benzodiazepines against more official guidelines.

    The effects often are lifelong. A human life often is destroyed, but why is this ignored by those in control?

    I suggest that the scandalous problem is ignored by government because the prescription-victims are referred to as addicts. In the public view, addicts already get more than enough attention. Problem: the benzodiazepine-damaged are not addicts.. They are missing the critical element of addiction. That element is the uncontrolled compulsion to use a substance in spite of the negative consequences of this act.

    The benzodiazepine-victim’s body has been altered by the drug to make critical biological activities nearly impossible. A dangerous and painful condition follows the usual discontinuation protocols. Benzo-affliction is far from drug-abuse. Clarifying this distinction may cause better and more humane treatment of these innocent casualties of modern medicine’s increasingly careless use of mind-altering chemicals.

    These drug-victims are not in any way related to substance abusers. Clarifying our language may encourage relevant and humane treatment.

    • ang 19/07/2015 at 7:38 am #

      And SSRIs SSRNIs got pushed as they sufddenly decided benzos are addictive. SO ARE THESE DRUGS…………. SAME THING>…………… they destroy your life, while, like myself was told non addictive, I had a brain imbalance, they bullshit, busslhit bullshit, now I feel I am a recovering drug addict, and I am………. but I was lied to……….. I never smoked, never drank, never did anything illegal, or bad for my health, and in only 8 years effexor has destroyed my life, my life savings, my credibility, my self esteem……………….. I am 56, I am grateful I never took these poisons when I was damn younger…………… yes I know what I have lost, and so grateful for the memories pre effexor addiction………………… off the stuff now……. suffering dreadfully two years later………. I just hope to god, I get well enough to enjoy my grandkids and family again, before I die.

    • ang 22/07/2015 at 1:46 pm #

      Yes I still call that an addict………… Just it takes maybe six months for the drugs to completely be out of your body………. then the crash, then the reinstatement……… yes I was an addict, SSRIs SRNIs I just didnt know…. now I do.

  13. Marie 19/07/2015 at 7:39 pm #

    Personally I have not been prescribed these particular drugs so I have sympathy for those who are going through awful withdrawal symptoms. The drugs I have been prescribed are heavy duty, high dose anti depressant and anti psychotics which have had a detrimental effect on my 40 year marriage, yes my husband is a saint. I don’t know if they have helped me in my recovery. But what I do know is that if I hadn’t had input from the NHS mental health care in the late nineties early 2000 ‘s I don’t think that I would be here now to send this message. As a trained peer support worker I believe that it was a combination of drugs, talking threapy and my own determination to get well, as well as my husbands patience and prayers for me.

  14. ang 22/07/2015 at 1:58 pm #

    Hi Marie, and still the evil drug companies, push the drugs, they talk about being open and honest about depression… ie talk about it, see a doctor, and yes, we will happily get you addicted to drugs that will make you an addict, and chronically ill…… as Merck, et al, we will still convince people than undrugged people suicide and homicide, when the reality is? we medicate, you go crazy, if not this week, eventually you will be chronically ill, and unemployable, and if you get physically ill, or more mentally ill, wow, we can prescribe MORE DRUGS………. all billed to NHS>

    • ang 22/07/2015 at 2:00 pm #

      The worst of the evils? SNRIs ie effexor…….. gosh I wish I was addicted to benzos, they dont destroy your brain, just sedate you..///////////// SRNIs? desttroy your soul, as do SSRIs…………..non addictive? what a marketing con……………………..as always………

      • j.hill 22/07/2015 at 5:10 pm #

        Benzodiazepines are now associated with ventricular enlargement (or brain shrinkage). No, this doesn’t happen in every case of taking as directed, but it does happen. MRI results adjusted for sex and age etc. do show unexpected loss of brain matter.

        There is more bad news but this is enough.


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