Social and general costs of iatrogenic benzodiazepine addiction  

1. In the UK in the late 1980s, the cost of legal aid to pursue the drug companies ran into many millions and led to the restriction of legal aid by government, to the point where it is in reality, no longer practical or possible for the ordinary individual to sue a doctor or a drug company.

2. The cost to the NHS of medical investigations of symptoms which are in fact due to the effects of benzodiazepines must be very high indeed if patient evidence is taken into account, but is unquantified officially. Investigations for MS, ME, IBS, Arthritis and Thyroid deficiency and other ‘illnesses’ are common - usually the results are negative

3. For people taking benzodiazepines and particularly the elderly, there is a much increased risk of accidents. The cause of the accidents, whether in the home, on the road, at work or in a care home is usually not recognised but has a cost for the individual beyond the cost to the NHS.

4. There is a great deal of evidence that the unborn are severely affected by the addiction of the mother. The link between benzodiazepines and foetal harm was denied in Parliament in 1999 but it undoubtedly occurs -  
 www.benzact.org.uk  . This raises a question of why it was denied.

5.  Between the introduction of benzodiazepines and 2004, Home Office and other figures suggest 17,000 deaths associated with benzodiazepines. In reply to a question from the Parliamentary Health Committee in 2004, Professor Alasdair Breckenridge, the Chairman of the UK drugs regulator stated that he thought there had been approximately 170 deaths. As Professor Heather Ashton said at the time, this represented 1% of the total and was a gross under-representation.

6. Prescribed benzodiazepines can lead to loss of control over actions which means in practice that drug-induced violence occurs in the home involving partners and children. Unwanted pregnancies are another side-effect of the drugs. They also lead to anti-social acts such as theft and vandalism.

7. Benzodiazepines lead to job loss either whilst taking them or while attempting to withdraw. Not everyone loses their job of course but a significantly high number do and it is not surprising, given the deadening effects of the addiction and the high number and severity of possible withdrawal effects. This effect on the individual and on families is officially ignored.

8. In 2004 the Chief Medical Officer reminded doctors of their continuing high prescribing levels and referred to the cost to the NHS of the drugs themselves but made no mention of the cost to the individual and failed to recognise the costs referred to in 2.

9.  There is a large cost to the state generally, involved in benzodiazepine addiction..  People unable to work,  pay no taxes or national insurance Their spending power is curtailed and therefore they pay less VAT. Addicted and unemployed, the benzodiazepine-dependent make very little contribution to the economy. Although many iatrogenic benzodiazepine addicts are to all intents and purposes disabled, few receive disability benefits. However, most do  receive incapacity benefit at a lower figure and this is of course a drain on the national economy. Some iatrogenic victims have not worked for a decade or even more.

10. Perhaps the biggest loss for a proportion of the benzodiazepine dependent (and who knows how big this proportion is)  is the loss of choice. They cannot choose to buy a house or may indeed lose a house because of the drug effects. They cannot take regular holidays or buy a new car. They cannot socialise or take up hobbies because of induced anxiety and inability to concentrate. Some find after they have withdrawn from the drugs that  they never left the house or indeed a room, for years because of induced agoraphobia. Those who have been addicted for decades may have lost the chance to build up a personal pension, leaving them dependent on the state, at a time when the state is telling everyone that the state pension is completely inadequate and that they should save for a personal one.

11. The most insidious effect of the drugs for some is the effect the drugs have had on their family. Their family was not prescribed the drugs but it was as certainly and indelibly marked as the taker. The lack of emotional response due to benzodiazepines is something a child does not understand and may never understand, even as an adult. The life chances of children of the unemployed and sick iatrogenic addict are understandably reduced and their emotional needs may remain unsatisfied, leading to problems for them later in life. It can be very difficult in later life to restablish relationships between an addicted or formerly addicted  parent and offspring. 

Colin Downes-Grainger www.actionminddrugs.org.uk

19 April 2006