Check on benzodiazepine-use must be done, say MPs

The safety of tranquillising drugs prescribed to millions of people over the past 50 years must be urgently investigated, MPs and peers will demand this week.

A group of cross-party parliamentarians want publicly funded health bodies to be forced to carry out research into the dangers of benzodiazepines which they say have destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Their demand comes as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the drug safety watchdog, admitted issuing 26 new licences for a powerful tranquilliser, Lorazepam, despite the fact it no longer holds any safety information about the drug.

Lorazepam, manufactured under the name Ativan by John Wyeth since 1972, is 10 times stronger than Valium, the most common tranquilliser drug, and many patients find it extremely hard to withdraw from it.

The MHRA has issued generic licences for the manufacture and distribution of the drug under a European directive which allows it to "bridge back" to the safety dossier and clinical trial evidence provided by the original manufacturers in their original licence application. John Wyeth voluntarily cancelled its licence for "commercial reasons" in 2008.

However, it has now admitted that it "no longer holds" the safety information because, after 15 years, "files are destroyed unless there is a legal, regulatory or business need to keep them, or they are considered to be of lasting historic interest". No one knows when or who reviewed the safety information last.

GPs issued more than 20 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines and similar Z-drugs – a group of nonbenzodiazepine drugs with effects similar to benzodiazepines – last year, including nearly one million prescriptions for Lorazepam. Around 1.5 million people are addicted to these drugs in the UK after being prescribed them for stress, anxiety, insomnia and muscle spasms.

MPs from across the country are fighting to secure help for many of these long-term users who cannot stop and display symptoms consistent with brain damage, sometimes years after they have stopped taking the drugs. Currently, the only NHS-funded withdrawal clinic is in Oldham.

Jim Dobbin, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction, last night said the MHRA's policy of destroying drug safety information was "absolutely frightening" and "irresponsible". He promised to raise the issue with the Health minister Anne Milton on Wednesday. The regulator has issued 5,200 product licences for 400 different drugs under the same EU directive since 2003.

Last month, The Independent on Sunday revealed that the government-funded Medical Research Council was warned nearly 30 years ago that benzodiazepines could cause brain damage in some people, similar to the effects of long-term alcohol abuse. Jim Dobbin wrote to Sir John Savill, the MRC chairman, more than a month ago asking him to explain why no further research has been carried out. He is still waiting for answers.

Meanwhile, lawyers are now examining those secret documents in order to determine what legal action could be taken against the MRC, which spent £704m of public money on research in 2008/09.

Mr Dobbin said: "The Government needs to get every one of these organisations into the same room so that they can stop blaming each other, stop passing the buck, and start listening to the victims. The cost to the individual and their families is huge; the cost to the taxpayer is horrendous. We want the Government to order a proper review into these drugs."

The Department of Health is currently conducting a review, but its narrow scope and delays have attracted widespread criticism from campaigners, victims, MPs and the Lords. Mr Dobbin is to meet with the Department of Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, in order to discuss the financial benefits of investing in support for addicts since so many are unable to function, never mind work.

Eric Ollerenshaw, Tory MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood since May, has asked a series of questions in Parliament about the safety of benzodiazepines after meeting a long-term addict, now a constituent, during his election campaign.

Mr Ollerenshaw, a former teacher, last night said: "I came into this completely objectively, but the more I have delved into it, the odder the situation appears. I know all drugs have side-effects, but these are ruining people's lives. There needs to be much more cross-checking and analysis between the public health organisations, who I had assumed would already be sitting around the same table to make sure drugs were safe. In my naivety, I thought the priority would be people's health. But if the priority is, in fact, a fear of litigation, then we have come to a pretty pass."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
This weekend's 'Big Hero 6' by Disney Animation Studios
arts + ents
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

    Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

    Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

    Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

    Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee