My Story of Benzo Withdrawal and Activism

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My story starts in 1976. I had a nervous breakdown whilst studying for my Accountancy Technician examination (which i passed with distinction). Plus I was holding down 2 jobs and bringing up a young family. My daughters where then aged 5 and 7.

I was then prescribed a series of benzodiazepine/anti depressant drugs for 5 years. This information was gleaned from my medical records (from 1976 until 1986) at a later date, as I have COMPLETE MEMORY LOSS, no memory at all, for that time. Then in 1981 I was prescribed 10 mgs daily of the drug Ativan, until in 1985 I was being doctor prescribed 30 mgs of Ativan daily. This amount of Ativan is equal to 300 mgs of Diazepam daily or 15 mgs of Klonopin daily. In addition, by this time my headaches where so severe because of the Ativan that my doctors where prescribing me 12 opiate painkillers daily.

As a direct result of this horrendously prescribed drug polypharmacy I had become extremely violent towards my wife Sue, whom I love dearly. I never actually hit her but came close to doing so. After another violent episode, I actually realised in a moment of lucidity that it must be the drugs causing my perverse behaviour. I am actually a very quiet person but the drug Ativan turned me into a MONSTER. So on the 19th of March 1986 I withdrew myself from all prescribed drugs, with no help at all from my doctors, who where clueless or frightened of their medical negligence towards me. The factual contents of this story were taken from my medical records years later when I moved to another doctor and my wife Sue also verified the drug regimen I was on at the time. My drug-induced coma destroyed 10 years of my memory bank permanently.

Barry & Sue

By this time I had lost half my body weight and was down to 7 stone, my ribcage could be clearly seen. The withdrawals where horrendous over my 15-month self withdrawal period. Vomiting daily, hallucinations, sweats, creatures crawling under my skin and scalp, severe headaches, stomach and urinary problems, intense neuropathic pain all down my right leg, horrendous nightmares where I was frightened of going to sleep, manic anger, joint pains and many other symptoms. I withdrew at home during this entire period.

Due to benzos being stored in the blood, fat tissue, and the bone marrow, my immune system was badly affected. I have permanent brain damage (proved by 2 MRI brain scans which show atrophy – i.e. shrinkage.) I also suffer with hypothyroidism, daily chronic migraines, memory and concentration problems and spinal arthritis. Despite these iatrogenic-drug induced injuries I LOVE LIFE and its challenges. My lovely wife Sue has supported me throughout. We have now been married for 45 years and have 3 lovely grandchildren. I can now watch them grow up, an experience denied to me with my own 2 daughters, which I regret dearly.

I have  been campaigning for the last 28 years at local, national and international level on this public health scandal and government cover-up. The following questions need to be asked to those responsible, certainly in the UK where government departments and ministers have thrown this issue in the long grass, terrified of taking the lid off this Pandora Box, prescribed drug epidemic, where no one has ever been held responsible or made accountable for this national scandal.

Why have the doctors and psychiatrists ignored the 1988 Committee on Safety of Medicines Guidelines on the prescribing of benzodiazepines? I.e; prescribe for 2 to 4 weeks only?

Why are the same physicians making the same mistakes with the newer Z drugs which are a benzo by another name? These drugs act on the same brain receptors and transmitters.

Why are alternative therapies such as CBT not more available for patients rather than being given addictive, mind altering chemicals ?

Why have we over 1 million long-term prescribed benzodiazepine addicts in England, a situation which has been deliberately allowed to grow by the medical profession and weak and ineffective government? Warning signs were there in the 1970s and ’80s. The Committee on Review of Medicines (CRM) in 1980 stated that the efficacy of benzodiazepines was 4 months only for use as an anti-anxiety drug and 7 to 21 days for use as an hypnotic. So what went wrong?

The above CRM FUDGED THE ISSUES by stating that that from 1960 to 1977 only 28 persons had become addicted to benzodiazepine drugs. Complete utter rubbish and a massive cover-up by all concerned as during that period 350 million scripts where issued to patients. A SCANDAL OF GIGANTIC PROPORTIONS. Swept under the carpet by those very health officials whose responsibilities should have been to innocent patients and not the Profit and Loss Account of the Pharmaceutical Industry and its shareholders. For decades the British Government has perpetuated iatrogenic drug addiction by sweeping the issue under the carpet and walking away from accountability to its citizens. Cowards, the lot of them.

In 2004 I managed to ‘persuade’ Oldham Primary Care Trust to fund a Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Service for persons living in the town. We estimated that at the time we had 5,200 such long-term prescribed benzodiazepine drug addicts in our area. The contract to provide such services was won by a Charity called Addiction Dependency Solutions (ADS) which has over 30 branches in the northwest of England. It is the only National Health fully-funded service in the country and it is still ongoing and successfully withdrawing patients from benzos, Z drugs and painkillers.

ADS also links up with Oldham Tranx of which I am the Chairman. Tranx has now been giving peer support to the prescribed drug addicts in surrounding districts for 25 years. All our work at Tranx is done – by volunteers, ex-addicts and carers – with no remuneration, just the love of helping people recover their way through drug addiction and return back to themselves and their families. We put our ‘ acquired’ knowledge to good use. Plus, we refer to Professor C. Heather Ashton’s (of Newcastle University) Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Protocol and I count Heather as a good friend and colleague. She is a remarkable lady.

It is this combination of an NHS fully-funded facility allied to a voluntary support group such as Tranx that I feel is the way forward in order to tackle this man-made epidemic.

I invited the Minister for Public Health in England to Oldham a couple of years ago to see for herself the progress that we are making. At the meeting she turned to speak with the Director of Public Health in Oldham and asked “How did you get involved in all this?“ Smiling, he pointed his finger at me and said “It was because of Barry, he was a pain in the backside with us, so we had to actively look for a solution to Oldham’s prescribed drug problems.” So by being a pain in the butt to health officials I have managed to obtain services to help those who are in desperate need.

I am only a little guy and no braver than the next person but I do know right from wrong. This prescribed global prescribed drug epidemic is so wrong. Can I please say to my US friends and fellow addicts and ex-addicts; never give up hope because YOU can make a difference as an individual and as a group. We keep fighting for recognition, justice and dedicated services.

God Bless You,

Barry Haslam,
Chair, Oldham Tranx. England.

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See Barry and Sue Haslam speak of their experience:

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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.

21 COMMENTS

  1. A corner of a brown envelope with the words “KIND REGARDS” FROM: BARRY HASLAM – it’s on the bulletin board above my computer. It’s about ten years old.

    I was trying to withdraw from benzodiazepines and antipsychotics and antidepressants – but mainly benzodiazepines. There was no help anywhere. Seven doctors including psychiatrists and MD psychotherapists had refused to even see me. The last words from the psychiatric facility where I had been forcibly held: institutionalization, pharmaceuticals for the rest of my life, maintenance electroconvulsive therapy for the rest of my life.

    None of that came to be. I had to taper myself off drugs by myself. I don’t know how I got in touch with Barry. I don’t remember what he sent me, but every time I look at that little bit of envelope and the message, I get tearful.

    I will never be able to help people in the way Barry does, but I hope sharing my story will help somewhat. Psychiatrists have not learned much. It all started with an ‘innocent’ benzo.

    I have reasons to remain anonymous for a little while longer. My story ‘Iatrogenic Insanity’ appears at http://www.cpso.co/iatrogenic_insanity.html.

    Thank you Barry!

  2. thanks, barry, for all your work. my husband was caught in a years-long benzo and other drugs cycle of hell. we are just beginning our activism and trying to pay forward what we know to prevent others from living our nightmare. making our voices heard, signing petitions…any other recommendations for us here in the us?

    • Hi Erin,
      Thank you for your kind words. Sorry to read about your husband and I sincerely hope that he has withdrawn ok from the drugs. I started my local campaign by relating my drug ‘experiences’ to the local newspaper to put the dangers of benzos in the eyes and mind of the public and local health officials.
      Oldham Tranx came a little later, perhaps peer support groups could be set up in the US in order to share their own experiences and help others through iatrogenic addiction.
      The real ‘experts’ are those who have been in benzoland , survived and come through it. Doctors do not have the empathy or humility to learn from our prescribed addiction, certainly if the UK is anything to go by.

      Take care.

      Kind Regards,

      Barry.

      • thanks for asking. my husband actually quit benzos 3x since starting them some ten years ago. but this winter is the first time he has woken up to what i have always known- there are a million ways to chnage a behavior or mindset that is troubling you. none of those ways should be pouring chemicals on your brain. he’s been off benzos ten months and taking his last dose of an a/d tomorrow. but the most powerful factor in his healing is his mindset.

        i am ready to shout from the rooftops but i am held back by our need to retain anonymity because of my husband’s work and because of our youngish kids. that is why i have not yet put anything in our local paper.- requires a name and a town.

        we have access to a radio personality who will let us on the air with anonymity. excited about that. waiting for my hub to be a bit further down the road. he feels, now, better than he has in his life. i want to trust him so badly, trust that he finally knows the truth about how he bought into the “system” in a huge way, was completely bamboozled by docs and criminal drug companies…but it’s still hard to trust. which brings me t your wife- kudos to her. my husband knows i only stood by him because i believed our 4 kids would be better off. among other things, he lied to me, stole from me, disrespected me, put our kids in peril, went behind my back…i have lots of anger, of course, and i think what might heal me is activism.

        anyway, thanks for listening.

        god bless

        • Hi,

          Really glad that your hubby is nearly off the a/d and that he is feeling much better now. Give him my regards please.
          Activism brings its own personal satisfaction as it did with me. I had so much anger inside me after I had withdrawn from the drugs towards the medical profession and the drugs industry. I could not sustain that level of anger so I directed it towards campaigning on behalf of others.
          These drugs are mind altering and turned me into a Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde character completely alien to my natural quiet character.
          I have asked Sue why did she stick by me when I had turned into another creature. Sue replied that she kept seeing the glimpses of the Barry that she had married, so it gave her hope to stick by me.
          I am so glad and fortunate that she did.
          Good luck with everything in the future to you, hubby and children.

          Sincerely,

          Barry.

  3. Amnesia,

    I came across your letter to your doctors on the internet years ago, when researching iatrogenic harm. You are an amazing survivor, thank you for publishing it, and kudos to you for all your medical research. I have a story of similar iatrogenic harm – perpetrated to cover up a “bad fix” on a broken bone and the abuse of my four year old child, by egregiously unethical doctors.

    And the government agencies that claim to protect patients haven’t looked into my case, even as much as yours, despite the fact one of former doctors has now been arrested by the FBI for having many patients medically unnecessarily shipped to him, “snowing” them, performing unneeded surgeries, resulting in many patient deaths. The government agencies are protecting the doctors, not the patients, now. I totally agree.

    But I will say, your comment of the hope that Barry’s note provided you is touching. My very best wishes to you, you deserve the best. And I pray you will continue to heal.

    And Barry, thank you for the hope. I am praying I, too, may some day make a difference. I’m a very persistent widow, but still trying to overcome my disgust at the iatrogenic harm done by the psychiatric industry to my family and humanity, as a whole. It’s truly almost unfathomable, when one realizes the magnitude of psychiatry’s most recent crimes against humanity, and that so many large organizations are complicit with these crimes. I feel like we’re dealing with the neo-Nazi’s taking over all nations. But there are glimmers of hope. God save the decent, please. Thank you for your tireless efforts, and you should be proud of your successes.

    • Hello,
      Thank you for your kind words, it is appreciated.
      Regarding doctors and morality. My previous doctors who prescribed me massive amounts of drugs actually destroyed my medical records when I was at the peak of my iatrogenic addiction. I have a 3 year gap in my medical records and no one can tell me why. I have forgiven the doctors but I can never forget. They know what they have done to me and my family BUT a much higher power will judge them and deal with them.
      There is always hope please believe. On my campaigning travels I have had photographers saying to me ” Barry, this is a serious issue please stop smiling.” I smile every day after coming back to my true self and family. Life is good.

      God Bless,
      Barry.

  4. Kudos, Barry, to you and your wife for having the courage and perseverance to pull through such a horrendous ordeal and then champion this issue in such an effective and saving way for so many! Your article is an encouragement to me to promote the awareness of the tremendous need for detox from psych meds here in the U.S.–and then have something done about it!

    • Hello,
      Thank you for responding and your kind words.
      I set out campaigning on a voyage of discovery and have met so many good and brave people in this world. It has been an honour to meet them. People have turned round to me and said” Barry, would you have changed the horrors that you have gone through because of iatrogenic addiction. My reply was no, I would not have changed a thing.” This experience has taught me the real values in life of marriage, family, decency and simple pleasures in life. Live in todays space and let the future take care of itself and be kind to others.
      Good luck with your campaign to raise public awareness and dedicated withdrawal services for psych meds. It is certainly needed in the US and on a world wide basis. We have to fight back against this injustice. Let me know please if I can help.

      Kind regards,

      Barry.

  5. You fought the good fight, and won, Mr. Haslam, and it was a very big fight. Victory is yours!

    My mother had been prescribed valium at the age of 16, which she took intermittently, sometimes with rum. One of the scariest and confusing things about her when I was a kid, was the time she was sure it was Wednesday, and I kept telling her it was Friday and we had to get dinner ready. I had to experience benzos myself before I understood that she had had a blackout, and as we all know, nobody should have to understand that. I really feared she was crazy that day, but it was the “medicine”.

    Best regards.

    • Thank you for your comments.
      Sorry to read about your mothers experiences and yourself on benzos. These so called ‘medicine’ has a lot to answer for. The Regulatory Authorities in the UK have destroyed the original licence applications presented to them in the 1960/70s by the drug manufacturers. So we have no hard evidence of submitted applications in order to prove the safety or efficacy of these particular drugs, which is very fortunate for the generic producers !!
      In the UK we have had meetings with leading politicians on the issue of prescribed addiction but talk is cheap, we need government action and urgency to sort out this national scandal. The fight continues in the UK for recognition and accountability on iatrogenic addiction and the fight needs to be taken to the US government and its politicians. Big Pharma’s lobbying power is massive BUT so is the voice of ordinary, good people all over the world. We need to be heard on this issue.

      Kind Regards,
      Barry.

      • They indict themselves by taking such actions. It’s too bad court systems are overwhelmed by corporations that are richer than the gods. A lot of people and groups are rising up to counter that, and that’s just the history of democracy, in a way, but BigPharma is Goliath and his whole army (of lawyers).

    • Fred,
      Thank you for your comments. If you go to websites appgita.com and benzo.org.uk you can witness the fight at political level and individual level we have / are undertaking in the UK to fight back against those responsible for this man made epidemic of prescribed drug addiction. We can all make a difference and voice our collective concerns to the politicians, doctors, psychiatrists and the drug industry. Together we are an army.

      Best wishes,

      Barry.

  6. Thank you for this inspiring article. I have also experience a memory loss from benzos. Although it was very short (for only 5 days) the experience of losing memory was profoundly traumatising, which was not helped by the fact that the doctors failed to notice it or ignored it entirely and later refused to acknowledge my experience.

    • Thank you B for your kind comments.
      The 10 complete years of memory loss that I suffered where very traumatic to me and I have had to watch re runs of news tv programmes to see just what I missed during that period in my life. Those years that I missed aged 32 to 42 should have been very formative in my life but at least I survived to see my 3 grandchildren grow up. My eldest grandson lost his father when he was only 4 years old due to a motor bike accident, so I have taught him fishing and football. Now precious memories which I can recall.

      God Bless,

      Barry.

      • I am happy that you have found peace and fulfillment in life and managed to rebuild the relationships with your family after such a horrific experience. Thank you for fighting for the right cause, it speaks volumes about your strength and principles.

        • Thank you.
          I know what I am fighting for is right. In the early years of my campaigning before I had my laptop. I remember 1 incident when I was writing a letter to government in the early hours of the morning and Sue my wife said ” Why are you doing this, nobody else is campaigning like on this intense level.” She was crying.
          My reply was ” I have to do it on the behalf of those who cannot do this because the drugs will not allow them
          to, I am fighting for them and their families.”
          Yes. I have found peace and fulfilment….thank you.

          Sincerely,
          Barry.

  7. Barry, I was prescribed 1 bottle of Ativans .5mg only 30 tablets, a year for panic attacks for the last 19 years. Recently I fell in a deep depression, anxiety, psychological disaster. It got to the point I was starring at walls, not eating, sleeping, so they put me on 1mg of Ativan daily, I refuse to go higher, (as before that I hadn’t taken any for 4 to 5 months. I had at least 1 panic attack a month before this)..While it works for a few hours, I can think , I can function and I can remember a little better.. But off it life is a blur, memories are like dreams… I feel I’m going crazy, I’m aware this is much deeper then Ativan, and I haven’t taken as much as you had in your life time, but can a small dose the last 19 years for panic attacks, ruin my brain..I’m going crazy thinking I’m dying..Please any help would be appreciated…. Sincerely Kyriaki