Massachusetts Bill HD.4554, also named “An Act relative to benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine hypnotics,” needs to gain sufficient state representative support by Tuesday, March 1, 2016 so it can then come before the appropriate committee for an official vote. Only five days away!
What is Bill HD.4554?
This bill will put restrictions on the prescribing of benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine sleep aids. It will require that all patients be informed of the potential dangers of these drugs, specifically the dangers of long-term use. If the bill passes, many people will be spared from the unnecessary and long-term suffering that taking prescribed benzodiazepines and sleep aids can cause.
Benzodiazepines are tranquilizers including: Ativan, lorazepam, clonazepam, Klonopin, Xanax, alprazolam, Restoril, Valium, and many others. This bill will also regulate sleep drugs like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. These are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world today, and there is currently little acknowledgement of their dangers.
What are the specifics of Bill HD.4554?
- Anyone receiving a benzodiazepine prescription will receive written informed consent from their doctor stating the risks of taking this class of drugs. The consent form will ensure that patient’s understand that benzodiazepines and sleep aids can lead to physical dependence, and in some cases, addiction. The informed consent form will also specify that this drug can, in some cases, cause an injury to the nervous system and dangerous and/or disabling withdrawal reaction. The consent form will also specify that long-term use is contraindicated.
- Benzodiazepine prescriptions will be written on brightly colored paper to ensure that patients know that they are receiving a potentially harmful substance that could lead to physiological dependence or addiction.
- No patient will be taken off benzodiazepines or sleep aids without their full consent. No patient will be “cold turkeyed” off their prescription. For patients choosing to come off, a safe taper schedule will be implemented.
- Drug labels will also specify that long-term use is contraindicated.
If the bill passes, and the prospects are looking good, a committee will be established to set up a safe tapering protocol. Doctors will be mandated to follow this protocol and will no longer be able to haphazardly taper or “cold turkey” their patients off benzodiazepines. The committee will include doctors and representatives from the psychiatric recovery community, and will pull from pre-existing tapering protocols such as the Ashton Manual.
Why Is this Bill Important?
The general public needs to be informed about the risks they are taking by using benzodiazepines and sleep aids.
Benzodiazepines have been linked with: PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome), increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, increased risk of falls and confusion in elderly patients and deadly seizures if stopped abruptly. In addition, a recent study found that 30% of all opiate overdoses resulting in death were found to include benzodiazepines in toxicology reports. This link between drug overdose deaths, particularly those involving opiods, and benzodiazepine use has been reported in a number of major news outlets in recent months.
Benzodiazepines can cause long-term damage to the central nervous system, and in 10-30% of long-term users (defined by the makers of Ativan as more than 2-4 weeks), recovery can last from months to several years after cessation.
Prescription guidelines, as outlined by the manufacturers of Ativan:
“In general, benzodiazepines should be prescribed for short periods only (e.g., 2-4 weeks). Extension of the treatment period should not take place without re-evaluation of the need for continued therapy. Continued long-term use is not recommended. Withdrawal symptoms (e.g., rebound insomnia) can appear following cessation of the recommended dose after as little as one week of therapy. Abrupt discontinuation of product should be avoided and a gradual dosage-tapering schedule followed after extended therapy.”
The “benzo community,” those who have been harmed by taking benzodiazepines as prescribed, has been trying for years to get the FDA to acknowledge that benzodiazepines are potent and dangerous medications that can lead to disability and dependence. We have petitioned for a black back warning, but that petition was denied by the FDA in 2010 despite extensive research and evidence showing the dangers of this class of drugs, and despite the fact that there’s been an awareness about these issues since at least 1979 when Ted Kennedy led a senate subcommittee investigation into the drugs’ dangers. This bill is our chance to be heard.
If the bill passes in Massachusetts, hopefully other states will follow suit and it will eventually become a federally mandated law.
How You Can Help
Anyone who lives in or knows someone from Massachusetts can help this bill pass. If you live in Massachusetts, email and call your state representative and senator before 5pm on Tuesday, March 1st. Let them know that you support Paul McMurtry’s Bill HD.4554, and that you hope that they will, too. Explain to them the damage benzodiazepines have done to you or your loved one, and how the careless prescribing of benzodiazepines has become a public health epidemic.
If you are not a resident of Massachusetts, reach out to family and friends who live in Massachusetts and ask them to contact their state representative and senator.
This following link can be used by Massachusetts residents to determine their appropriate state representative: http://www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx
Thank you for your support!
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Video assembled and edited by A. M. Demaris
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Video by Ally Nugent
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.