This transcript highlights the decades of deliberate apathy and neglect; towards UK prescribed benzodiazepine drug dependent patients by the medical profession and the Department of Health and is a complete betrayal of trust.
Transcript from Panarama May 2001 with Shelley Jofre grilling Professor Louis Appleby on the scale of the problem 16 years ago:
JOFRE: Do you know exactly how many people have been prescribed for longer than the recommended four weeks?
PROFESSOR LOUIS APPLEBY (National Director for Mental Health, Department of Health): We don’t have exact figures on that. It’s estimated that there are about between 1 million and 1½ million people nationally taking these drugs, but we don’t really know exactly how many people have been on them long-term.
JOFRE: Why not?
APPLEBY: Well it’s to do with the way that national data are collected and I’m not going to defend that. I just think that what’s been collected has been the number of prescriptions, and so the number of prescriptions tells its own story. It’s several million prescriptions every year, but it doesn’t tell us what we particularly need to know which is how many people take those drugs long-term and what measures are then taken to get them off.
JOFRE: Since the government don’t know how many people are on these drugs long-term, we commissioned our own poll to find out. We asked almost two thousand people whether they’d been taking benzodiazepines on prescription for longer than 4 months. Over 3 percent said yes. That’s over one and a half million people, if the same pattern is repeated across the adult population.
JOFRE: Because we couldn’t get any figures from the Department of Health we carried out our own survey which shows that over 3% of the population have been on benzodiazepines for longer than four months. That shouldn’t be happening should it?
APPLEBY: No, no it shouldn’t. There’s no way of defending that except to say that in order to get people off benzodiazepines you need to have a fairly comprehensive approach to the problem with the provision of alternative treatments so there’s no temptation in the first place for people to go on them for anxiety, with treatments for withdrawal, with proper monitoring which I think we haven’t had in detail previously. We need to do more than simply tell doctors what to do.
JOFRE: Undoubtedly. According to our survey, the warnings have been falling on deaf ears. We asked those taking benzodiazepines how long they’d been on them, and remember the guidelines say it should be no more than 4 weeks. 28 percent said they’d been on them for more than ten years, and it’s clear the guidelines continue to be ignored by many doctors. 72 percent of people said they were prescribed the drugs within the last ten years. Over half were prescribed within the last five years.
The guidelines that were introduced in 1988 were very clear. They said benzodiazepines shouldn’t be prescribed for more than four weeks at a time. Which part do you think doctors didn’t understand?
APPLEBY: I think the guidelines are completely clear. I don’t think there’s any problem in understanding them. I think what the problem has been that changing individual prescribing practice requires more than guidelines. It’s also necessary for doctors to have a clear idea of what alternative treatments there are, meaning different drug treatments but also in particular meaning psychological therapies for anxiety.
JOFRE: Isn’t that their job to know what sort of treatments are available?
APPLEBY: Yes, yes it is, but prescribing practice changes slowly and I suppose that’s one of the lessons of this whole disaster.