NHS sued over medical use of LSD

Roger Dobson
Monday 02 August 1999 00:02 BST

LAWYERS ACTING for more than 100 people suffering the effects of being prescribed LSD in the 1960s will begin a court action for compensation within the next few weeks that could cost the National Health Service more than pounds 4m.

The action, to be heard in the High Court, involves 15 hospitals and health authorities and centres on allegations that psychiatrists prescribed what was an unlicensed drug without proper consent to hundreds of patients in the early 1960s.

A second expert witness has now confirmed the substance of the claims being made which triggers Legal Aid Board funding, and the first court hearing in the case has now been fixed for September.

"That hearing will be the first and we hope to be in a position to serve the main statement of claim on the defendants by the end of September,'' says David Harris, lead solicitor for the plaintiffs in the action.

"LSD was given for a wide range of conditions and it was given on the basis that it opened up minds much more quickly than going through normal therapy. Instead of having weeks of consultations, they gave them LSD, pressed the trigger, and waited to see what happened,'' he says.

What happened was that people with conditions as diverse as phobias, morning sickness and post-natal depression who were given LSD were left with long-term effects that include hallucinations, flashbacks, acute anxiety, depression, memory loss and mental illness.

Roy Anthony, a married father of two and a former company representative, bitterly regrets that he sought help in 1961 for what was a relatively minor problem: "On the way to work each morning I felt sick. I had all the tests, barium meal and so on, but the GP could find nothing wrong and suggested it might be psychological. I went to see a psychiatrist and he said he had just the thing for me. Instead of spending long periods in analysis, I would be given a drug that would provide quick answers.

"I was given LSD over a three-month period and have never recovered. We were given very large doses. When it became a recreational drug, users had what was called a microdot of it, but we had massive doses.

"The first time I had it I woke up the next day and thought I'd go for a walk. I opened the door and almost fell on my back. I had suddenly become an agoraphobic, couldn't bear to go outside. When we had children and went to the seaside, I had to stay inside the car, it was that severe. I still suffer with flashbacks to childhood and that kind of thing as well as hallucinations. They should not have used us in that way. I have been on tranquillisers since I was given LSD almost 40 years ago."

Richard, a retired teacher in the Midlands, who is also taking legal action, went to see his GP with a sore throat and while he was there mentioned a phobia he had about the noise of people eating. "He suggested I saw a psychiatrist who told me they had an exciting new drug therapy called LSD which seemed to cure all ills. He said they didn't know how it worked, but it seemed to be very successful, and that if there were any side effects they could easily be reversed.

"It started with a small dose which simply made me feel intoxicated, and then they increased it. On the third occasion I was lying on a bed looking at the cracks in the wall when this monster came out of them. It absolutely terrified me, and I had a tremendous panic attack.

"I thought I was going insane. This was happening at a time when I was about to get married and start my first job in teaching. For the next three years I was on Librium for anxiety, and I still have flashbacks and feelings of panic and insecurity. It is as if there is a dark corner of my mind where there all sorts of nasty things waiting to come out. I live in fear that they will.''

David Harris, whose firm of solicitors, Cheshire-based Alexander Harris, has been having psychiatric assessments carried out on the LSD patients, said they are seeking general damages for long-term effects on their health. "For some people the effects of the LSD have been very traumatic. Some, for example, have never worked, while others have emotional and other problems. LSD was not a licensed drug, they just gave it. In all the evidence we have now taken, from doctors as well as our clients, no one was ever asked to give their consent.''

Richard Foster of Vizard Oldham who act for the NHS in the case, said: "We are defending the action. The Lord Chief Justice has been asked to appoint a judge and at the moment we are obtaining medical records and interviewing those clinicians that are still alive.''

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