Chemical Rape of Body, Mind and Soul:
An Account of Benzodiazepine
This account contains little more than the 'Bare Bones' of over 50 years of my life. It includes over 16 years of medical treatment, using the benzodiazepines to treat the many side effects caused by the benzodiazepines, resulting in admission to psychiatric hospitals, loss of career, marriage, family, home and severe intellectual impairment.
I have tried to highlight three key areas -- Misprescribing, Misdiagnosis and Mistreatment -- that are common elements in most accounts of benzodiazepine dependency.
One day in 1969, I was driving to my home town of Reading, England. for the first time in many years, when I decided to contact my family doctor, who had taken an interest in my life and career. That spur of the moment decision radically altered my life and that of my family.
I had recently returned to England from the USA, where I had worked
for 8 years as a physicist at the University of Illinois and for IBM Research in New York State.
I mentioned to the doctor, that I had experienced recent bouts of vertigo and he prescribed me what I now know to be Valium. Over 16 years later, I had lost my career, marriage, family, home and possessions, living on Social Security in a Bed and Breakfast hostel, with a mental age of about 10 years.
During my upbringing, I had few health problems, less than 10 visits to doctors in the first 35 years of my life. I represented my school, town and county at several sports and competed in several National Athletic Championships. I also represented my University at soccer, table tennis and athletics.
Between my school and University years, I spent one year working at Harwell, the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, where my interest in Nuclear physics was stimulated. I attended the University of Reading, where I obtained a BSc in Physics and a PhD in Atomics physics. After a two-year period of post doctoral research, I was married and took up an appointment at the University of Illinois.
From early childhood onwards, I had close links with my local church, being very active in the choir, social and sporting activities. Later, I became a member of the Parish Council and the Diocesan Synod.
Although much of my early years on Valium is hazy, I can with hindsight detect the slow and insidious nature of Valium dependency. I can remember short term memory loss and problems with concentration that were affecting my work. (On my return to England, I had taken up a post with an International Electronics Company, in the field of semiconductor physics). Although I had published over 30 scientific papers, I was finding it difficult to write up recent work and after several promotions, I asked to be relieved of some of my responsibilities. I was becoming Introverted and began to isolate
socially, giving up my links with the church and sports. A marked change in my personality and character occurred over a few years, accompanied by a range of physical problems as well as anxiety and panic attacks.
In 1974 my local doctor stopped the prescribing of Valium overnight, and in 5 days, I was admitted to a private psychiatric hospital for what I now know to be "cold turkey" withdrawals. I was initially diagnosed as schizophrenic and for the period 1974-1976, I spent several periods in this hospital, receiving various drug therapies, including continuous narcosis and about 25 sessions of ECT.
At the end of this period, I was asked to accept redundancy from my work, on the grounds of ill health. The only explanation given to me and my wife, was that I had had a nervous breakdown. During the next 10 years, I was prescribed diazepam (Valium), Chlordiazepoxide (Librium), nitrazepam (Mogadon), temazepam, prazepam, a wide range of antidepressants and several neuroleptics.
I had tried several times to resurrect my working life, including a period as a tutor in Adult Basic Education, unsuccessfully. Not surprisingly, these events took a heavy toll on my marriage, resulting in a marriage separation. My wife was also prescribed Valium and became dependant on them for several years.
I was by this time taking 100 mgs of Valium / day, all prescribed, and my physical and mental health had greatly deteriorated and after a failed attempt to restart our marriage, I gave up my part-time work and obtained a divorce.
After the divorce in 1981, I isolated even more and moved from the Midlands to Bournemouth on the South coast of England, where I knew no one. After a while I sought help from a local doctor, who immediately stopped my supply of Valium in a few days. Within 2 weeks, I was in severe withdrawals again and admitted to a psychiatric hospital where I was threatened and blackmailed into having ECT. I later learned that the records showed that I did not sign a consent form and that a diagnosis of severe benzodiazepine withdrawal was made, followed by a note for ECT to be given.
The next five years were a continuous nightmare of more benzodiazepines, antidepressants and other drugs. Every day was a huge conscious effort to achieve the basic facets of life. I was living by myself and with the help of ex-colleagues, managed to obtain a junior post at a University Research Laboratory, thinking that a return to the 'love of my life' would help me back to 'normal' life. This with hindsight, predictably ended in disaster. I was working away from home during the week and returning to Bournemouth at weekends, needing more and more drugs to stave off withdrawal symptoms, obtained readily on repeat prescriptions.
In April 1985, I was refused a prescription with no explanations. I was later to find out, that because of a restricted National Health Service prescribing list, prazepam was no longer available. So again, I went into cold turkey withdrawals and ended up in a psychiatric unit, put back on drugs and after a rapid two-week withdrawal programme, I was sent home.
The next six months are a complete blur, I now know that I was going in and out of fugue states (similar to alcoholics blackouts). I had previously had an epileptic seizure and these states are known to be associated with epileptic activities in the brain. Fortunately, during my stay in a psychiatric hospital, I had met a counsellor at a 12-step Treatment Centre, and he managed to get me admitted for a three-month period of treatment, which turned out to be the beginning of my recovery.
For the first two years, I suffered from insomnia, anxiety, fear and panic, with very poor short- and long-term memory. I had virtually lost all of my life and social skills and I did little except attend 12-step meetings every day. These were my only means of support; the medical profession had neglected me. Soon after, I came out of treatment, I asked my doctor for help with rehabilitation, but at the first mention of benzodiazepine dependency, I was met with a stony-faced, glassy-eyed silence, and an opening of the door to indicate the appointment was over.
After two years in recovery, the anxiety, fear and panic levels had dropped appreciably, but my short- and long-term memory was still very poor. I was going through protracted withdrawals (an extended period of side-effects produced by the drugs) and I was finding it difficult to cope with the responsibility of living in my own home. I managed to make some money by selling my home and became a wanderer for a few years, living in bed and breakfast hostels, with friends and with my brother and family in Perth, Western Australia, for several lengthy periods. I also took two round-the-world flights, visiting various countries, including the USA, Australia, Fiji, Hong Kong and Singapore. I attended 12-step groups in these countries and received a great deal of help, support, care and attention from them.
In between my travels, I started to re-study maths and physics, at O Level (16 years) and A Level (18 years) standard. I believe that in this period as well as re-learning, I was doing a very important thing: a necessary reconditioning and reprogramming of my brain. This culminated in a series of memory floods in 1989-90, during which my long-term memory largely returned. From that time onwards, my short-term memory and concentration slowly improved. Later in 1992, as a part of the benzodiazepine litigation, a neuropsychological examination revealed deficits in cognitive ability in at least six areas. My IQ at that time had reached 120, well short of the pre-benzodiazepine level.
During one of my stays in Bournemouth, I became aware of the legal action against the manufacturers of the benzodiazepines, which I joined initially, with the hope of getting my medical records (several previous requests had been denied by the medical profession), when I finally managed to get them, to my horror, it was clear that the prescribing doctors knew of my addiction since the mid-1970s, and had failed to advise me or my family. On the contrary, several had flatly denied it with comments like: "Stop playing doctor and burn your books" and "You will take Valium for the rest of you life, if you wish to be my patient". One letter from the treatment centre advised my doctor, that, I was seriously brain-damaged, and that the prognosis was uncertain. I saw this doctor several times after treatment, and he failed to advise me, or my family, or offer any help in recovery.
The English Benzodiazepine Litigation, paid for by the Legal Aid Board, was beset with many problems right from the start in 1988. It finally collapsed in 1993, when funding was withdrawn in 1992, I and several other claimants had formed Victims of Tranquillisers (VOT), in an attempt to overcome the appalling ignorance shown by many solicitors and medical experts of the nature of benzodiazepine dependence and its consequences.
We became litigants in person and fought our case through the High Court, the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court (House of Lords). Much as expected, our case was rejected and we are now suing the UK Government in the European Court of Human Rights, for denial of our right to a fair trial.
My medical records reveal over 40 adverse reactions to benzodiazepine ingestion. Today 15 years on, most of the physical and cognitive problems have either disappeared or are at a level that can be incorporated in every day life, but, time does not heal the sociological problems and losses.
Although officially retired after many years of being unemployed and unemployable, I spend most of my time as National Co-ordinator of VOT. The need for such an organisation is still growing, because unfortunately, the medical profession has not learnt its lesson from the past over the prescribing of sedative-hypnotic drugs. VOT members handle many thousands of enquiries by mail, telephone, fax and email. and hopefully one day, will all make sure that the authorities, who are responsible for this medical scandal, are made accountable.
As of today, I have not met a doctor, who has the courage and honesty to look me in the eye and admit to the benzodiazepine dependency problem, let alone offer an apology for their role in it.
It appears that many have turned the Hippocratic Oath on its head: "First Do No Harm" now applies to themselves and the medical profession, NOT THE PATIENTS.
"Institutions, like some individuals, are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves." ~ Anon
"There is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt to investigation." ~ Herbert Spencer
Dr. R. F. Peart, BSc, PhD, RIBA, SOP*
Victims of Tranquillisers (VOT)
Flat 9, Vale Lodge
Tel: 01202 311689
* Bachelor of Science, Doctor of Philosophy, Recovering Iatrogenic Benzodiazepine Addict, Survivor of Psychiatry
Dr Reg Peart - A tribute
When I heard of Dr. Reg Peart’s passing, my first thought was the Lord’s Word, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Those words have been used by various people at various times. During WWII, they were changed a bit to say “brother” instead of “friends” and were put on advertisements to sell war bonds. It was a war that Reg was fighting. Not a war that many people even know about, but a war nevertheless. A war that is worldwide, just as WWII was. It was the war against drugs. And it wasn’t the drugs that were sold on the streets. It was, and still is, the drugs that are prescribed by doctors who usually mean well, but are destroying lives and producing stories like Reg’s, repeated all over the world many times over:
Reg spent almost every minute of his life, following his own recovery, researching benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. He spent countless hours on the phone and writing people. He helped people all over the world overcome the hideous withdrawal too often seen from this class of drugs.
Many people, once recovered from this syndrome, desire to put it all behind them and want nothing more than to try their best to forget it. Once in a while a special person comes along and says, “This isn’t right. I have to do something.” Reg was such a person. And he ‘did something’ until he no longer could. Reg is gone from this world now, but the legacy of love and care he left still remains. It remains in the years of research he did for those who needed proof that benzodiazepines do cause neuron receptors changes that can take months or years to return to normal. It remains in the papers he wrote to help people learn more about what was happening to them. It remains in the memory of the gentle English voice that told so many, “You will get well.”
As I suffered my own withdrawal, I often stopped and asked myself, “Why?” I’ve never expected the answer while here on earth, but I have always imagined it was so that I would learn some things. And maybe one of those things was that there are still people on the world who care about others more than themselves. If so, I had the pleasure of knowing one of those people, an older, English gentlemen, a good man, a man who gave more to others in one year than many of us manage in a lifetime.
We will miss you, Reg.
debra / Co-owner of Yahoo Benzo Support Group