On June 12th, Psychology Today published an article entitled, “Benzo Hysteria: the Chilling Effects of the ‘Addictive’ label,” by Ed Shorter, PhD. Although there were numerous false statements in the heart of the article, all directed in the best interests of the pharmaceutical industry and its shareholders, a dangerous and unfounded claim was made in its final paragraph, which reads as follows: “The benzos are among the safest and most effective drug classes in the history of psychopharmacology.”
Unless Professor Shorter means to say that the history of psychopharmacology has been a disaster, harming millions, a point with which many agree (and I don’t believe he is making that point) he must be talking about how much money has been made on benzodiazepines.
This is a serious problem. Benzodiazepines are in fact highly addictive and many people suffer for years from protracted withdrawal syndromes that are disabling. I am currently one of those people. Psychology Today is defined on Wikipedia as a publication “written for a mass audience of non-psychologists.” This means that anyone anywhere can read this article and come away believing that benzodiazepines are non-addictive. They may then fall victim to torture that almost escapes words. Almost.
In the academic world, personal accounts (a/k/a anecdotes) have the tendency not to be taken seriously. In the past two years I have been involved in a number of projects which seek to collect these personal stories because, after all, the plural of anecdote is data. There is, however, a far more compelling reason; to document this tragedy of human suffering and to honor those who have died in desperation and those who suffer horrifically.
Professor Shorter’s article is not only dangerous to unwitting future victims; it is also an affront to all of those who have survived, and especially to those who are trying to survive.
As soon as this article came out, reactions and personal stories began to pour on to the Psychology Today Comments section. Professor Shorter expressed his “surprise” over the plethora of outraged comments while continuing to deny that benzodiazepines are harmful and addictive. And the comments took a dark turn as an individual using an alias attacked the commenters very personally.
Psychology Today then removed all of the comments, with the exception of Shorter’s reply, leaving the article intact with its treacherous denial of harm unopposed.
In response, I started a petition with Change.Org entreating Psychology Today to retract the article “Benzo Hysteria.” I obtained over 500 signers, replete with horrendous accounts, in 3 days. Harvard psychologist and research methodology specialist, Paula J. Caplan, PhD, was one of the who posted critical comments on the site, just one of which was that Charles Nemeroff, whose work was cited by one of Shorter’s supporters as providing evidence of his allegations about the safety of benzos, has been found to have concealed the vast amount of money he had taken from pharmaceutical companies.
Psychiatric Times is a publication which defines itself as, “a medical trade publication written for an audience in the profession of psychiatry.” It goes on to say, “It is distributed to about 50,000 psychiatrists monthly.”
On May 15th, Psychiatric Times published an article titled, “Benzodiazepines and pain.” The author, Steven King, MD, MS, wrote:
“Two reports from the CDC indicate the scope of the problem with benzodiazepines. From 2004 to 2008 there was a 111% increase (going from 144,600 to 305,900) in the estimated number of emergency department visits involving non-medical use of opioid analgesics. For the same period, there was an 89% increase (from 143,500 to 271,700) in such visits for benzodiazepines. Data from the National Vital Statistics Cause-of-Death File in such visits from 2010 show that opioid analgesics were involved in 75% of pharmaceutical overdose deaths, benzodiazepines were in second place with an involvement of 29% of such deaths. Benzodiazepines were also involved in 30% of opioid deaths, far more than any other class of drugs.”
Does the CDC really understand the problems with benzodiazepines? No they don’t, but the 500 people who signed my petition in 3 days do. They are parents who watched helplessly as their children suffered for years. They are friends whose friends committed suicide in despair that they could not endure. They are brothers and sisters whose siblings’ lives were destroyed. They are nurses, teachers and other professionals whose lives are in suspended animation. They are husbands whose wives have never been the same. They are wives who lost their marriages, children and livelihoods. They are adult children who have been traumatized by what happened to their parents. It just goes on and on.
One person suggested to me that the best way to describe what Professor Shorter denies is as a silent holocaust because “we call out in pain and no one hears us.”
I am including here a link to the petition so that anyone can read for themselves the lived experience of people all over the world. http://www.change.org/petitions/psychology-today-retract-the-article-benzo-hysteria
Benzodiazepines are highly addictive drugs which cause severe damage. The real Benzo Hysteria is the denial of the medical establishment.
A beautiful young woman in the very prime of her life, a physician’s assistant before her years of protracted withdrawal, summed things up best when she said, “I wouldn’t give this drug to Satan’s dog.”
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
Mad in America has made some changes to the commenting process. You no longer need to login or create an account on our site to comment. The only information needed is your name, email and comment text. Comments made with an account prior to this change will remain visible on the site.