Doctors sued for creating 'Valium addicts'

Patients take legal action after being damaged by over-prescription of drugs

Doctors are being sued for creating prescription drug addicts amid claims they have failed to follow safety guidelines published more than 20 years ago.

Lawyers and medical experts have reported an increase in clinical negligence cases by patients left physically and psychologically broken by "indefensible" long-term prescribing of addictive tranquillisers such as Valium, collectively known as benzodiazepines.

Patients taken off the drugs too quickly, leaving them disabled with pain for months if not years, are also seeking legal redress. Many say they were never told about the dangers of rapid detoxification, which can lead to seizures and even death in severe cases. Doctors have been accused of being "in denial" about the problem.

Experts have warned of a coming flood of legal action against doctors who failed to inform their patients about the addictive nature of some tranquillisers, currently given to millions of people worldwide. They are prescribed to deal with common social and psychological complaints, from exam stress to relationship problems and bereavement.

Professor Malcolm Lader, whose research in the 1980s suggested a link between long-term tranquilliser use and brain damage, said he now gives legal advice about negligent prescribing and dangerous detoxifications "at least every three months".

He told The Independent: "There is no sign that such prescribing is diminishing. The Royal College of GPs is in denial about this because they fear being sued. With around a million long-term users, the [legal] defence unions will at some point decide that these cases are indefensible and GPs will have to pay their own costs." A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Misuse estimated in 2009 that there were 1.5 million involuntary tranquilliser addicts in the UK. More than 6.6 million benzodiazepine prescriptions for anxiety were dispensed by England's pharmacies in 2010, a 15 per cent increase in 10 years. Prescriptions for Valium have increased by 20 per cent over the same period.

The first successful legal claim against individual doctors dates back to 2002, when Ray Nimmo, who was prescribed Valium for 14 years, won his case against GPs in Scunthorpe. His lawyer, Caroline Moore, has had five new referrals in the past month.

Some people develop a tolerance after regular use for two weeks, needing a higher dose to induce the same effects; others report using them for years with few adverse effects. For most, stopping is the problem: they can experience a range of painful psychological and physical symptoms, worse than their original complaint.

Dr Adrian Rogers, a GP who is also an expert in medico-legal cases, said: "I can't believe there aren't more claims. The fact that lots of doctors are prescribing long-term isn't an excuse – no responsible GP would do it."

There are only a handful of specialist tranquilliser withdrawal services across the UK. Most people rely on inexpert help from GPs or addiction services aimed at illegal-drug addicts. Recovery Road, a new helpline, receives around 250 calls a month, mainly from those who have detoxified too rapidly. "These poor people describe being in a kind of torture chamber," said Baylissa Frederick, of the organisation.

The Bridge Project in Bradford tracks down long-term benzodiazepine users. In five months this year, one of its specialist drugs workers helped 102 patients.

Dr Chris Ford, a GP and benzodiazepine expert, is drafting new guidance to help doctors avoid creating addicts and advise them on the best way safely to detoxify those who are already dependent. Controversially, it will endorse long-term use for a limited number of patients. "These are good drugs – they work, but it is a slippery slope if doctors do not have systems in place to make sure they are only used in the short term," she said.

"These people should not be treated like illicit drug users. Any detox has to be done very slowly. These drugs can cause serious long-term problems, so GPs should encourage people to come off them, but, for some, it is necessary to compromise. No one should be forced to withdraw," she added.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The Government's drug strategy set out [in the White Paper Healthy Lives, Healthy People] an ambition to tackle dependence on all drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines. It is clear that this is a problem that affects some people in most areas and is much unreported. Public health bodies will be responsible for the commissioning of services to support people recovering from dependence."

Case studies: Lives blighted by addiction

'It was like the doctors were my drug dealers'

Rachel, 62, from the Midlands. Rachel (not her real name) is trying to sue an NHS clinic that detoxed her from tranquillisers so rapidly she has been left bedridden

"Around nine years ago my GP prescribed me Valium. I didn't know it was addictive; my doctor kept giving me repeat prescriptions over the phone. I didn't have any problems until five years ago when I started to get numbness in my face and irregular heartbeats.

"I was offered a detox in an NHS rehab unit... I was in for five weeks, and they cut me down 1mg every other day, which they insisted was very slow. It was absolute hell.

"I didn't want to go back on the drug but I had no choice. Most days I can't stand up... my memory has gone. Listening to those detox people is the biggest mistake I ever made. The doctor won't accept the pain is caused by the withdrawal."

'Listening to those NHS detox people is the biggest mistake I ever made'

Janet Marshall, 53, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, won £25,000 in an out-of-court settlement from her GP after "losing" 28 years to prescribed benzodiazepines

"I was 26, I'd just had my fourth baby, and I had a panic attack. I called the GP because I thought I was dying, and was prescribed oxazepam, even though I was breast-feeding. I became hooked, taking 15 10mg tablets a day at one point.

My fifth child was born an addict; he suffered withdrawal symptoms, but by this time I couldn't cope without them. Sometimes my pharmacist would give me some to tide me over the weekend if I'd run out. Five years ago, I changed GP, and she said I had a problem and started cutting me down, but far too quickly. It was like the doctors were my drug dealers. I couldn't talk properly or stop shaking. It lasted for months, but I felt so much more alert and got my senses back.

"I feel angry and bitter at the Government, the pharmaceutical companies, the GPs – they all knew about it. I was a healthy normal person before the benzos; I was a good mother but I was robbed of that. I feel so guilty about my kids."

Suggested Topics
Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Clinical Negligence Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

    Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

    Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

    DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

    £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone