CEP co-founder Luke Montagu gives talk at BMA meeting on prescribed drug dependence

Talk given by Luke Montagu at BMA meeting on prescribed drug dependence on 25 February 2016:

Seven years ago I was an entrepreneur running a group of film businesses, which included the UK’s largest film school as well as film production & post-production companies.

But I was worried by the prescription drugs I was taking – an antidepressant and a sleeping pill – as I was getting increasingly tired and forgetful.

In 1990 I had had a bad reaction to a sinus operation.  My GP diagnosed me with one of the great falsehoods of modern medicine – ‘a chemical imbalance’ – and put me on antidepressants and later sleeping pills as the antidepressants made me wired.

In 2009 – 19 years and hundreds of prescriptions later – another doctor admitted me to hospital to detox from the sleeping pills.

Three days after the drug was removed I entered a hell which can only be understood by those who have been there.  My brain felt as though it had been torn in two, my ears screeched with tinnitus, sounds blared and colours distorted.  I couldn’t talk or think or move.

After a few weeks, the intensity lessened.  But I was forced to resign from the company I had worked so hard to build, as I could no longer function.  I spent the next three years mostly sitting at home, unable even to read a book.

I then decided to come off the antidepressant and new symptoms appeared, including intense agitation and burning pins and needles.  I’m now five years drug free, and it still hurts like hell.

I sued my doctor and we settled out of court for nearly £1.4 million.  The lawyers took almost half of that, and the rest doesn’t begin to cover my lost earnings over these lost years.

With gritted teeth, I would have accepted my status as an outlier on the bell curve.  But I went online and discovered communities of thousands of sufferers from all over the world.

If you are among the many in the medical community who continue to deny this issue, then I urge you to visit some of these sites.  Go to benzobuddies.org or survivingantidepressants.org.

You cannot fail to be moved by the suffering and loss; the effects on mothers, children and marriages, on good people who have worked hard to build good lives, only to see them implode as they struggle to cope with quite intolerable symptoms.

And then listen to them describe the double injustice of having their suffering denied, of doctors refusing to accept that it could possibly be the drugs.

It can take months or years just to taper off.  Once off, it can take several years to recover from the neurological damage leading to the complete devastation of lives.  Some don’t make it; every other month I come across someone who has taken their life rather than put up with one more day of extreme suffering.

And the situation is clearly getting worse.  Does anyone in this room really believe that we need almost 60 million prescriptions in England for antidepressants alone, enough for one for every man woman and child, an increase of 500% since 1992?  Why is this number going up?  Because – like benzos – people can’t get off these addictive drugs, more and more are hooked.

There are a handful of charities helping these sufferers, and yet two of these have recently been forced to close due to lack of funding.

And just to be clear – there are virtually no NHS services for this cohort of patients, yet surely the NHS has a particular moral duty to help patients who are suffering because of NHS treatment?

Promises are made by successive health ministers and yet they fail to follow through, saying that it is now the responsibility of local authorities to provide these services – services which of course never materialise in this age of austerity.

I have been campaigning on this issue for a few years now, and have concluded that the only way we are likely to see change is by persuading the medical establishment that it is time to put your hands up and do something about this issue. Ministers and governments will come and go, but your institutions are permanent fixtures with the power to change prescribing practices.

So what’s needed?  The BMA’s overview of stakeholder feedback suggests that – amazingly – we mostly seem to agree.  Specialist support services, improved medical training, more research, adherence to prescribing guidelines and the creation where necessary of new ones.  Top of my list is a new national helpline for prescribed drug dependence, just like Talk to Frank for illicit drugs.

Beyond this we need a change in culture.  Doctors need to be better at saying no.  Whatever the demands of the patient, doctors must stop and think before handing over that first prescription which for so many becomes a slippery slope into dependence and misery.

I’ll end with a reminder of a quote which has helped me get through these past few years.  ‘In some ways,’ said Victor Frankl the psychotherapist and Auschwitz survivor, ’suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.’  I hope that today we have reached a moment of meaning – please let’s do our best to seize it.

25 Responses to CEP co-founder Luke Montagu gives talk at BMA meeting on prescribed drug dependence

  1. Jill littrell 07/03/2016 at 3:03 pm #

    I don’t think psychiatrists can give up the prescription pad unless they have alternatives. There is increasing recognition that anxiety and depression are created by inflammation. For decreasing inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet (cut out the saturated fats and high fructose corn-syrup, add tumeric, omega-3s, and vegetables), social support, yoga, exercise, meditation all work. For references, see my web-site, littrellsneuroscienceofwellbeing.org, google “jill littrell + scholarworkds for accessing articles, see my book, Neuroscience for psychologists and other mental health professionals: promoting well-being and treating mental illness.

    • Marion 31/01/2017 at 6:53 pm #

      I work as a mental health support officer in the UK with people who have various diagnosis of mental illness, most of whom have been hospitalized and remain under section and can be recalled back against their will. It is awful the way some people are treated and the cocktail of drugs has bad effects with many people dying earlier than average.
      The pharmaceutical companies make huge profits from promoting these medications which are taught in the medical model within psychiatry. And not many people dare question a trained psychiatrist do they?
      The whole model is outdated.
      New links are being found which need to be promoted as mental illness is a complicated issue and connected with nutrition, hormones, inflammation, stress, trauma or abuse and many other issues. If the government fund a support line that would be great. Training for all NHS and support staff would also help as well as more aw areness through the media to reach the people effected by this.

  2. Greg White 07/03/2016 at 3:05 pm #

    Bravo Luke Montagu, for picking up this ‘cross’.
    It might be helpful for you and others to know that powerful help exists in the trans-personal realm if and when through breath-work and body work, we learn to let go to/with our personal and archetypal unexpressed grief.
    Hence in the Gnostic text
    ” Blessed are those who (consciously)suffer, for they know life”.
    “What’s in the way, Is the way” Mary O’Malley.
    The Best of Good Fortune To You.

  3. Diane butler 07/03/2016 at 3:32 pm #

    I have been suffering from various symptoms , tinnitus , a lot of pain in joints , forgetfulness etc , after being prescribed antidepressants for 20 years , and getting my gp to listen that is if I can get an appointment , I think it is time to come off the medication but do not want to be back in that awful place before I was prescribed the tablets. it is very comforting to know that I am not the only one suffering in this way and hopefully find some help

  4. Jamie Summers 07/03/2016 at 3:42 pm #

    Very powerful words, Luke.
    Let’s hope they listen to you,


  5. Sandra Breakspeare. 07/03/2016 at 4:21 pm #

    Really sorry you have had to go through all you have. My own son has been given many psychiatric drugs for over twenty six years, also ECT and he is dellusional on a daily basis. We begged and pleaded for other forms of help years ago but were told there is nothing else. He has for the last sixteen years been detained in a psychiatric hosp. and every year been put on a section 3 of the mental health act.
    I have fought and searched for help which led me as far as Canada and from what I learned I have set up a charity whose aims are to set up and run a treatment centre for people who have not improved despite the interventions of the mental health / psychiatry. Obviously the people who will come to us will have been in the system and so will be on medication when they arrive and so with time and treating the whole person we will gradually help them reduce their medication but will have the appropriate professionals on board to help with this process. There is much need for people like yourself to speak out and it is only with enough of us speaking out and demanding this sort of help will we make changes. We (the charity) have organise our seventh conference to date which is being held on Fri. 13th. May 2016 Speakers include Robert Whitaker, Pro. Jonathon Mill, professor in Epigenetics, Nick Putman, Open Dialogue just some of our speakers. Please look
    up http://www.chy-sawel-project.co.uk

    • Truth 10/06/2016 at 11:27 pm #

      “Who have not improved DESPITE the interventions of the mental health/psychiatry”?? I think it is most likely the toxic drugs and brain disabling ECT were largely the architects of your son’s continuing state of ill health. Poisoning and electrocution. Brilliant “treatments” causing iatrogenic harm as we see in Luc Montague’s story (in this case prescribed for no good reason-,well, actually,?is there a good reason 95% of the time? Not likely.)
      Good luck to you in trying to put in place real alternatives and healing interventions that avoid the horrors and incompetence of psychiatry.

  6. Whoopsie 07/03/2016 at 4:32 pm #

    Thank you Luke to you and your family for continuing to speak out about this devastation caused by medicine that is supposed to help people but instead causes grievous harm. (Wow!!! Can’t believe we survived.)

  7. Madeleine Lapointe-Millar 07/03/2016 at 4:41 pm #

    I thank you for speaking about what is a closed subject in my country. To suffer alone is a greater hell. Hopefully suffering such as we have lived could be eased or prevented in other people and lives saved. Grateful to have survived what seemed beyond bearing. Please keep speaking out

  8. Thalia Martin 07/03/2016 at 6:34 pm #

    It’s so awful that you and others have suffered so much through this misguided prescribing. The “chemical imbalance” myth is obviously very attractive to people looking for a quick and cheap answer to suffering. But it’s fantastic that you’ve fought back and are speaking out. Your courage, in itself, is very helpful to others, so thank you.

  9. Robert Hammel 07/03/2016 at 6:47 pm #

    The health care system I work in, in Canada, is also woefully uneducated as to the health dangers and deep social costs of first line overuse of the psychotropics.

    I find it very sad that the drugs that were advertised to hold so much promise have become such a pig in a poke. It saddens me more that the psychiatric establishment is so deeply embedded in what really appears to be a state of cognitive dissonance about the whole problem.

    It’s lunacy to continue frontline overprescribing of psychotropics rather than the alternatives of using proven psychotherapies and developing an empathic “social care system” for mental health.

    Thank you Luke and continued best wishes on your journey to health.


    • Truth 10/06/2016 at 11:42 pm #

      Absolutely. I live in Canada, in the lovely province of Saskatchewan where I am sure we have the largest group of deluded, dangerous, and uneducated psychiatrists to walk the earth. They are fond of poly cocktail prescribing of z-drugs, benzos, antidepressants, and either “mood stabilizers”, or “antipsychotics “. AND when that toxic brew triggers psychosis, mania, agitation, akathisia, and suicidal thoughts or they deem a person “treatment resistant” after two useless antidepressants fail, they reach for shock paddles, ECT/ brain injury. I would rather take my loved one to a veterinarian or a witch doctor or watch over him day and night in my own home than let him near one of these ignorant,dangerous lunatics.
      My own descent into hell began with the brilliant prescribing of a GP who loved to prescribe Effexor for any reason- insomnia? Anxiety? Divorce stress? And then leave the patient on the drug for 10 years, oblivious that attempts to stop the drug were causing “withdrawal”, not a “return of depression or anxiety”.
      These drugs are poisons. We need psychotherapists and doctors who are educated about seeking to treat trauma and emotional illnesses or distress with something other than a toxin.
      There is no empathic social care system in mental health. Just a lot of dazed and dangerous doctors and nurses following their deadly orders….

  10. Bart 07/03/2016 at 10:59 pm #

    Thanks Luke for continuing to raise awareness. I have been free of SSRI medications for over 1.5 yrs. Only now am I seeing an improvement in my symptoms and well-being. I must imagine it will take me another year or two to get back to where I was before taking the medications. I never knew a place of suffering from so many debilitating symptoms was even possible. The anxiety I had before taking the drugs is a scratch compared to the intensity of withdrawal symptoms which I can compare to chemical equivalent of a Holocaust. Unbelievable how many people are probably dying from this. With prescriptions growing I can only imagine doctors are killing millions unintentionally.

  11. Emily Robin 08/03/2016 at 12:10 am #

    Short term, low dose users can also have an issue with protracted withdrawal. I was on .5 Klonopin for 11 months, was told by many doctor all my symptoms (dizziness, and feeling like I was about to have a seizure could not be from the drug). I was told to taper in a week and spent the next year barely able to leave the apartment. I am 10 years off and feel normal now, healing for me was in windows and waves. On occasion still have dizziness, but it is minor. These drugs are meant for short term use, 2-4 weeks, not years; doctors need to be aware.

    So far Ativan is the only benzo to state (all benzos need to state this):

    “In general, benzodiazepines should be prescribed for short periods only (e.g., 2-4 weeks). Extension of the treatment period should not take place without re-evaluation of the need for continued therapy. Continued long-term use is not recommended. Withdrawal symptoms (e.g., rebound insomnia) can appear following cessation of the recommended dose after as little as one week of therapy. Abrupt discontinuation of product should be avoided and a gradual dosage-tapering schedule followed after extended therapy.”

  12. John 08/03/2016 at 2:39 am #

    Thankyou Luke my off label story is very similar to yours.
    I got a refusal to apologize from the doctor so i guess we are different there!
    And a constant stream of BS from the medical profession and regulatory complaint authorities.
    Like you i spent 2 Christmas’s in bed wanting to die.

  13. Gary Laurent 08/03/2016 at 3:58 am #

    Unclear if the sleeping pills refered to which caused the traumatic withdrawal symptoms during detox were benzodiazepines.

    Very disappointing.

  14. Sandra Villarreal 08/03/2016 at 6:15 am #

    Luke, you and your wife Julie are very remarkable people. I have so much gratitude to you for publicly sharing your story, and then doing something about it by starting CEP with Dr. Davies. As a fellow sufferer prescribed psychiatric drugs, ECT’s and the deadly ‘cold turkey’ benzodiazepine withdrawal (mental healthcare workers said it was ‘just fine’ to do providing no support what so ever.) I am truly lucky to be alive. And what a reward it has been to have survived. I’m able to read stories such as yours, and your wife, Julies.

    Thank you.

  15. Janet Waterton 08/03/2016 at 10:59 am #

    Hi Luke. That is absolutely brilliant. I sincerely hope with all the effort you and CEP are achieving will make these people sit up and take real note of what you , I and the thousands of other unfortunate involuntary prescription addicts ( a word I hate ) have suffered and still suffering.

    • Cathie 29/03/2017 at 12:41 pm #

      This is to Janet Watertown,
      For the first time in 10 years I don’t feel alone after reading your interview. Thank you for sharing. Where to go from here? I have researched de-tox / re- hab centres, but found none that deal with my condition. I simply do not sleep without sleeping pills and benzos. I am not an addict and find it pointless to go to places like you did and suffer even more because you’re not in the right treatment centre. I don’t need lectures on why and how how to quit! I can stop taking the pills but after a few days of no sleep I’m beyond crazy. I need to be in a safe and professional environment, not putting my partner or friends through hell any more. Like you, cost is a factor too, I simply don’t have that kind of cash, nor insurance. Good for you for pursuing the case for four years. If anyone knows of a reasonably priced centre where chronic insomnia is treated alongside coming off the pills I’d be over the moon. Thank you, and good luck to all of us.

  16. Tracey Slater 10/03/2016 at 11:42 pm #

    Thank you so much for bringing an eye to this horrific tragedy of injustice. I am surviving through withdrawal at 9 months off 13 years of paroxetine. I was lied to as was told that they were easy to come off etc etc. I have great support as I cannot work now and I have a first hons degree and a house with my amazing partner. I am not the same person anymore. I am traumatised from the inhumane suffering it causes which we can only understand. Thank you so much. I wish I could sue them all but at least hopefully the word will spread and nd others and their families won’t have to experience this hell.

  17. Danny Ray 13/03/2016 at 9:41 pm #

    Well done for continuing to get awareness about this Benzo hell out there. I’m 7 years off and still very debilitated.
    I started a Facebook group (where I saw this article) for protracted withdrawal syndrome from benzodiaepines and there are a few on there where some can get help. Nowhere nearly enough but a stopgap.
    I haven’t had £1.40 for my suffering. Not to minimalise what you’ve been through. Maybe if everyone damaged got a lot of money as recompense (no money could make up for this nightmare ) the medical community might start to listen!

    Keep up the great work. My fellow sufferer.
    Danny R

  18. Vicci 19/03/2016 at 7:50 pm #

    My story is so similar, it’d be shocking if this all wasn’t so common. I was an RN case manager and mother of two when doctors poisoned me. 14 years. I am now 30 months off Klonopin, Lithium and antidepressants, and finally starting to pick up the pieces. Thank you for telling your story and for all the work you do. You’re an inspiration!

  19. Susan Burke 17/04/2016 at 12:06 am #

    I am 1yr 4 mnths after finishing antidepressant medicication for 7 yrs duration. It has been a battle every day since cessation. I had a slow gradual reduction of meds, but the residue/side effects since then have dominated my life. No work, dysphorias, sleeplessness, headaches, anxiety to mention a few ongoing symptoms. The upsetting thing is no help is available (GPs, neurologists, psychologists, psychoanylists, psychiatrists). It is not a recognised illness and denial of my symptoms is rampant. I rest my case, and have not been able to get a medical diagnosis or any medical indication of when it may end. Regards, Susan Burke

  20. Samantha 21/08/2017 at 5:38 pm #

    My dr stopped me cold turkey still suffering trauma nearly 8 years am housebound have I rifht to sue


  1. British Med. Association Tackles Prescription Drug Dependence - 07/03/2016

    […] The full text of Montagu’s speech is available here→ […]

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