I can almost hear a few loud responses to my provocative title questions echoing across the internet and blasting out my computer speakers: “Mr. Lewis are you some kind of conspiracy nut job? Didn’t you read the most recent news report which stated very clearly that Prince died of a “self-inflicted” overdose of the synthetic opioid drug, fentanyl. Didn’t you hear that fentanyl is a deadly drug that is 50 times more powerful than heroin. Mr. Lewis, Prince’s death has now been verified as just another sad statistic in the opioid overdose crisis raging throughout the country. What else could you possibly want to know other than some gossipy details? Leave the poor man alone and get on with your life.”
For all those interested in searching for the truth behind Prince’s death, (along with several other famous celebrities) and the thousands upon thousands of similar drug related deaths of ordinary citizens, pay close attention to the continuation of this vitally important and necessary dialogue:
“No,” I firmly reply. “I am not a conspiracy theorist, and what I heard on the news was exactly what you heard. Apparently some medical examiner from Minnesota decided that because the powerful drug fentanyl was in Prince’s bloodstream at the time of his death that it must have been “self-administered” and the specific cause of a drug overdose which led to his ultimate demise. End of story – right!?”
“Not so fast,” I continue, “and no, I just can’t get on with my life when important truths about the criminal negligence of the FDA, Big Pharma, and Psychiatry in our society are being hidden behind a deceptive vail of mystery and misdirection.”
“For if you just happened to pay close attention to this past week’s most recent news story regarding Prince’s death you might have also picked up on the “minor” detail posted at the end of a brief AP news article which revealed that the benzodiazepine drug, diazepam, (also known as valium) was one of several additional drugs found in Prince’s bloodstream at the time of his death.”
As an aside, it is interesting that this seemingly inconsequential information has now seeped out in to public news despite the fact that Minnesota state authorities are not legally required to release the entire results of the toxic drug screen taken from a deceased body. Supposedly, this is meant to protect the medical “confidentiality” of the deceased person including any specific records of possible “mental health” treatment.
Of course we all know that “patient confidentiality” as of late (with all the mass shootings) seems to *trump* any issues of general public safety. In those cases they almost never reveal the psychiatric drugs taken by the perpetrators or the possible role that these drugs might have played in the ensuing violence. So unfortunately we may never know the full details of all the drugs in Prince’s body that could have caused his death, and the information that has been revealed so far has a very familiar pattern of misleading sensationalism. It is also true that we may never know what type of doctor is implicated in helping him access the specific drugs that killed him, and for what purpose these drugs may have been prescribed. And if a doctor is singled out as somehow negligent in his death, he or she will most certainly become a convenient scapegoat obscuring larger institutional malfeasance.
So now you ask: “what exactly is the important information that we could potentially discover by analyzing the specific combination of drugs in Prince’s body and the type of doctors involved in his care at the time of his death?”
I eagerly respond, “Before I attempt to answer that specific question let me ask you a second, and possibly easier question regarding the fully published details of another famous autopsy. “Who and what killed Michael Jackson? You hesitate and then tell me “it was ah…, let me think now, maybe I’ll check google on my cellphone. Ah ha, I know, it was a Dr. Conrad Murray who was found to be negligent in his death, and the medical examiner declared that Jackson died from an overdose of that funny sounding anesthetic drug that begins with “P.” Yeah, propofol, that’s it. It’s that drug which in high amounts can stop your breathing and is rarely ever used outside of a hospital setting. “See, I got this,” you now declare with great confidence.
I then ask: “What other drugs were also found in Michael Jackson’s blood stream?”
Once again, looking it up on your cellphone you respond: “it says here that diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), midazolam (Versed), Ephedrine, and Lidocaine in addition to the propofol were all in his system.”
“Sooo….!” I say with a baffling sense of amazement, “there were three benzodiazepines drugs (Valium, Ativan, and Versed) in his bloodstream, yet the medical examiner somehow determined that Michael Jackson died from acute Propofol intoxication.” Isn’t that interesting?” I say, adding a very sarcastic tone, and then I proceed to pose the most obvious next question:
“Ok, so let me get this straight, putting together all these known drug facts, any person of sound mind should readily accept the official medical conclusion that in Jackson’s death the presence of three benzodiazepine drugs is of little consequence compared to the significance of that weird sounding drug that begins with “P” called, propofol.???”
Here I will also insert the interesting and very much related information that Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Whitney Houston, and Philip Seymour Hoffman all had benzodiazepine drugs in their system at the time of their death. The famous Batman actor, Heath Ledger (like Michael Jackson) actually had three benzodiazepine drugs – lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), and temazepam (Restoril) discovered in his bloodstream, in addition to the opiate, Oxycodone, found in the toxic drug screen performed during his autopsy. By themselves benzodiazepines are rarely fatal, but in combination with alcohol or other sedative hypnotic drugs and especially anesthetic/pain (opiate) drugs they are especially lethal due to their ability to magnify effects and shut down heart and lung function.
As an interesting aside, it is a very sad fact that Ledger’s father just recently released a published statement publicly blaming his son for his own death with no mention of the doctors who prescribed him all those so called “safe” and “medically necessary” drugs that have become such a deadly combination in so many people’s deaths. The Medical Establishment can now breathe another sigh of relief since many victims of criminal negligence are frequently blamed by their own families (and the public) for these tragic overdose deaths that have medical malpractice written all over them.
I say to everyone following this conversation: “does this now all make perfect sense to you? Are you satisfied enough to get on with your life and not ask any more probing questions or seek out a deeper understanding of the hidden truths behind the drug overdose crisis in this country; a crisis that is killing many of our beloved artists, as well as such a high numbers of our friends and loved ones – to a tune of 30 thousand a year?”
“NOT!!!” I shout back, defiantly answering my own question. And I hope you will all become equally as defiant and angry as I am, and further seek some type of truth and justice related to this entirely avoidable epidemic of drug overdose deaths. Deaths that will only continue to spiral out of control if we fail to identify important drug clues and the institutions and individuals responsible for this massive betrayal of public trust and the resulting crimes of medically negligent homicide.
Benzodiazepines: The Hidden Story Behind the Drug Overdose Crisis
With a sense of great frustration it feels like we are all watching a series of crime/sci-fi mystery stories where in multiple scenes there appears a similar set of important clues for which a standard set of authoritative characters continue to ignore and/or downplay. To the visual audience these important clues are beginning to stand out and draw growing suspicion. There may even be a nefarious set of characters in the script who are deliberately hiding or misdirecting people away from discovering the real source of the all the death and destruction that escalates within the story.
In the current (real life) drug overdose drama unfolding before our very eyes, we are more than curious to ask the following questions: what is the role of benzodiazepines drugs, the FDA, Big Pharma, and Psychiatry? Can we trust these institutions to identify the important drug clues being revealed in the rising death toll? And will these institutions provide both answers and solutions to the current deadly epidemic or are they burying their heads in the sand and/or misdirecting our attention from the true source of the problem? You decide.
To anyone carefully looking at all the evidence available, the deadly role of benzodiazepines (combined with opiates), should be more than obvious, especially to those who have formally studied medicine or psychopharmacology! For I am quite sure it has now become painfully obvious to those nonprofessionals currently reading this blog article, or to anyone else who has taken the time to make even a casual assessment of the accumulating evidence.
One person every 16 minutes dies of a drug overdose in this country. There is documented evidence that benzodiazepines show up as real life clues in at least 30% or more of all overdose deaths. For many reasons this is most likely a significant underestimation of the actual role of benzos in the overdose crisis. Toxic drug screens of deceased victims are not always required, and in poorer communities we usually never find out all the specific drugs in a person’s body. Therefore the role of benzos in these overdose deaths will never be revealed or counted in the final statistics.
Only one quarter of all opiate fatalities involves the singular use of an opiate. Yet somehow all the media focus seems to be misdirected towards so-called mystery drugs such as fentanyl and propofol, and towards Mexican drug cartels and rogue Chinese factories illegally shipping drugs to America. Or in a similar way rogue doctors (such as Conrad Murray who was Michael Jackson’s personal physician) become a convenient scapegoat and target of blame which only serves to obscure the much larger forces and institutions at work behind these overdose deaths.
Yes, fentanyl and propofol can be dangerous drugs, but to focus the main attention in this crisis on these rarely used drugs is deliberately misleading and dead wrong (pun intended). All this minimizes the critical role of benzos and rather conveniently lets certain institutions and their corporate leaders off the hook as the main suspects in such a vast number of cases that should be labeled as crimes of negligent homicide. And the so-called medical and legal experts who have the responsibility in our society to be leading this important investigation into the causes of the drug overdose crisis have either been duped by Big Pharma and the American Psychiatric Association, or they have somehow become complicit in a massive cover-up of such widespread institutional forms of medical negligence.
The question must be asked: when will the more mainstream drugs such as benzodiazepines (benzos) and opiate pain drugs, along with the institutions that so casually allow them to be prescribed to millions of unsuspecting patients, become the targets of a media and government investigation? And exactly who are the people that are protecting these institutions from serious scrutiny in this epidemic?
There are close to one hundred million prescriptions a year written in the U.S. for benzodiazepines; most of these are long term prescriptions. These are drugs that many medical experts would say should rarely, if ever, be prescribed for longer than 2-4 weeks, counting time for a safe taper. Prescriptions lasting for a longer period of time will most certainly lead to dependency and/or addiction problems. And it must be pointed out that over 60% of all regular opiate/heroin users also access benzos on a regular basis. As most regular users of opiates develop normal drug tolerance with reduced sedative or pain reducing effects, they will often seek out benzodiazepines to magnify the effect of the drug combination. Read this personal account by a heroin addict that describes her life in addiction and her need and desire to add benzos to her daily drug intake. It is a sad fact that most opiate addicts know how to use their opiates but often forget about their common consumption of benzos earlier in the day.
It is this deadly cocktail of benzodiazepines and opiates that is most responsible for the rising rate of opiate overdose deaths spreading in this country. It is a drug cocktail where benzos may actually be THE decisive deadly component in the lethal drug combination, yet they hardly EVER get singled out. The dramatic rise in the number of prescriptions for both categories of drugs in the past 20 years has a parallel trajectory of rapid growth that is well beyond being a mere coincidence.
Why is organized medicine failing to grasp the significance of this dangerous prescription pattern that is very much a part of their own making related to billion dollar public campaigns led by Big Pharma and Psychiatry (promoting benzos as a treatment for anxiety) starting in 1980?
We cannot understand the true nature of todays’ benzodiazepine crisis without examining key events that go back several decades in the historical development of modern Psychiatry. Space and time limitations preclude my going deeply into this history. It is accurate to say that it was collusion at the highest levels between the leaders of the pharmaceutical industry and the American Psychiatric Association in 1980 that led to the development of the DSM lll (the diagnostic Bible of “psychiatric disorders”) and the classifications for a particular set of anxiety and sleep disorders.
This ongoing collusion between these two powerful institutions culminated with an arguably fraudulent campaign that created favorable conditions for FDA approval of Xanax (and other benzos) as a so-called, “safe treatment,” for panic attacks and insomnia. The rest is (today’s) history, as the expression goes (Readers are urged to seek out Dr. Peter Breggin’s book, Toxic Psychiatry (1991) and Robert Whitaker and Lisa Cosgrove’s Psychiatry Under the Influence (2015) for a comprehensive history of these events).
In the UK there are routine warnings publicly aired by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) alerting doctors and the public about the dangers of benzodiazepines. Even on the fictional British PBS series, Doc Martin, a “know it all” young medical intern stated in recent dialogue on one episode the critically important “2-4 week” mantra relative to safe benzo prescribing. Yet in the U.S. benzos are still routinely prescribed long term for years, even decades at a time and they are readily available as a street drug in every city and town in the country. Read the many articles and testimonials (here, here, and here) that detail the iatrogenic damage caused to millions of people regularly suffering from dependence and chronic withdrawal symptoms because of improper benzo prescribing.
There is real evidence (listed in the above book references) going back 30-40 years ago, that Psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry both exaggerated the benefits of benzodiazepines and hid the dangers of long-term prescribing. However, even if some people wish to excuse the FDA, Big Pharma, and Psychiatry by somehow saying that 20-30 years ago they couldn’t have possibly known the amount of harm that benzodiazepines would cause in the future decades, or have known in advance how these drugs would become inseparably linked to the drug overdose crisis raging throughout the country, we must now ask, what could possibly be their excuse today? The evidence today is so overwhelming clear regarding the dangers of benzodiazepine drugs being used outside of a hospital or highly controlled medical environment.
We now know that even one long-term prescription of a benzo can be dangerous and debilitating to unsuspecting patients, and there are tens of thousands of such people seeking help outside organized medicine to safely withdraw from these drugs. So when three (!!!) benzodiazepine drugs are discovered in the bloodstreams of famous deceased people such as Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger, and one benzo is present in such a large percentage of all other drug overdoses, including Prince, where are the institutional warnings regarding how this kind of prescribing pattern has been allowed to grow and develop throughout our society?
Answers to the following questions must be demanded from all medical and government authorities responsible for drug safety:
- Given the current evidence available regarding the dangers of benzodiazepines, why has no serious warnings been issued regarding their role in the prescription drug overdose epidemic?
- Why haven’t all new prescriptions for benzos been limited to 2-4 weeks, counting time for safe withdrawal combined with warnings issued regarding the long term dangers of dependency and/or addiction?
- Why are huge numbers of benzo prescriptions still given to people with a known history of opiate addiction and/or regular prescriptions of opiate pain drugs with no mandate to monitor a safe protracted withdrawal?
- Why is there no current investigation into the fraudulent methods (instituted by Big Pharma and the APA) by which benzodiazepines received FDA approval and why is there is no current government efforts to reverse, or pull back on this prior approval?
Let’s step back for a moment from this conversation and critically examine the significance of these hidden truths behind a host of celebrity deaths, as well as, a tragic number of deaths that involves ordinary citizens (in the tens of thousands) in the drug overdose crisis raging throughout the U.S. It is sad and unfortunate that we have to ever invoke the names of famous celebrities in order to garner more public attention for these important issues related to benzo prescribing and the rising drug related deaths. After all, all these people who are dying every single day, are in real life, our brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, mothers and fathers.
No, Prince’s death is not simply another statistic in the opiate overdose crisis in this country. It appears that he is another casualty (in the tens of thousands of victims) of the drug combination of both benzos and opiates. Yes, fentanyl was one of the opiates in his body, but to only single out that particular drug as the causative agent of his death becomes a way to obscure the much more common decisive role of benzos. This has become an unjustifiable mistake that is being repeated by many medical and legal authorities throughout the country and is also unfortunately repeated in the media. The real story behind the hidden killer drugs, benzodiazepines, needs to be thoroughly exposed and broadly disseminated throughout our society.
While we know that there are many other broader sociological issues that help explain addiction problems and people’s attraction towards using mind altering substances in our society, we must first address some of the most obvious areas where immediate changes could save lives. For most people stress, anxiety, and pain abounds within our society and there are also unique pressures placed on creative talents and other celebrities who often succumb to the pressures of the marketplace where both their art and persona becomes just another commodity to be bought and sold. Whatever class position people hold within our society we all rely on the Medical Establishment and government agencies to determine which drugs are safe to be accessed and consumed by the public. These institutions have grossly failed in their public responsibilities and they must be held accountable.
It is clear that certain leaders of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the FDA, and the pharmaceutical industry are all complicit in the multitude of casualties related to the drug overdose crisis in this country. They are clearly guilty of putting their drive for profits and their narrow guild interests above the issues of public safety. We will truly know that justice is finally being rendered in our society when these institutions are publically exposed for their corrupted science, fraudulent drug promotion, and harmful medical practices. And yes, justice will only be finally rendered when certain key institutional leaders responsible for these crimes (instead of a few rogue doctors) are actually prosecuted and jailed for their criminal role in multiple cases of medically negligent homicide.
Who in the media and in other positions of influence in our society has the courage to speak out about the true nature of the benzodiazepine crisis and its role in the deadly drug overdose epidemic? Who has the courage to actually identify the institutional leaders culpable in the many examples of medically negligent homicide? For if these actions are not taken the death toll from fatal drug overdoses will most likely continue to rise in the coming period. This is especially true since the Obama administration has now authorized far greater use of synthetic opiate drugs such as suboxone and methadone to combat opiate addiction. Without addressing the benzodiazepine crisis at this moment in time, this new policy stands to dramatically increase public access to the deadly drug cocktail of benzo and opiates, thereby only increasing the dangers of more fatal overdoses.
Like any other successful human rights struggle throughout history, a successful outcome will require significant organized mass action to arouse public attention. Given the current power and influence of Big Pharma and Psychiatry in our society this will require major systemic transformations leading to their ultimate denial of access to any type of legal power or political influence. We must also carefully examine the pernicious role of a profit based economic system which over and over again continues to corrupt scientific and medical endeavors and clearly stands out as a major barrier to the future of all human progress.
* * * * *
- American Academy of Pain Medicine press release March 6, 2014, Stanford University researchers (Ming-Chi Kao) warn: Prescriptions for Benzodiazepines Rising and Risky When Combined with Opioids.
- Associated Press; “Official: Pills found at Prince’s estate contained fentanyl”; August 22, 2016.
- Ashton, Dr. Heather; Ashton Manual (Benzodiazepines: How They Work And How To Withdraw, 2002) and Drugs and Dependence (2002), available at Benzo.org.UK
- Benzo.org.UK; Benzodiazepine Dependence and Withdrawal; Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ file #38)
- Breggin, Dr. Peter; Toxic Psychiatry: Why therapy, empathy, and love must replace drugs, electroshock, and biochemical theories of the “new psychiatry,” 1991
- Doe, J; Don’t Harm Them Twice: When Language Surrounding Benzodiazepines Adds Insult to Injury, Part 1; and Don’t Harm Them Twice: What Can Be Done, Part 2, Mad in America blog, 2015
- Fiore, Kristina; Killing Pain: Xanax Tops the Charts; MedPage Today; Feb. 25, 2014.
- Hart, Dr. Carl; “Heroin (Alone) is Not the Problem;” The Huffington Post; September 18, 2013.
- Hickey PhD, Philip; Benzodiazepines: Miracle Drugs; at Behaviorism and Mental Health.com
- Jann, M; Kennedy, WK; Lopez, G; Benzodiazepines: a major component in unintentional prescription drug overdoses with opioid analgesics; Journal of Pharmaceutical Practice.; Feb. 27, 2014.
- Jones, Jermaine D.; Mogali, Shanthi; and Cormier; Sandra D.; Polydrug abuse: a review of opioid and benzodiazepine combination use; Drug & Alcohol Dependence.; 2012, Sept. 1; 125(1-2); 8-16.
- Jones et al; Pharmaceutical Overdose Deaths, United States, 2010; Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) 2013; 309:657-9.
- King, Stephen A.; Benzodiazepines and Pain; Psychiatric Times; May 15, 2013.
- NPR.org; “Risks of Popular Anxiety Drugs Often Overshadowed;” (by Susan Sharon); April 15, 2014.
- Ornstein, Charles; Jones, Ryann Grochowski; One Nation Under Sedation: Medicare Paid for 40 Million Tranquilizer Prescriptions in 2013; Propublica.org; June 10, 2015
- Psychiatric Drugs Killing More Users Than Heroin, Cocaine, Say Health Experts; Providencehealthcare.org, May 17, 2016.
- Whitaker, Robert; Cosgrove, Lisa; Psychiatry Under the Influence: Institutional Corruption, Social Injury, and Prescriptions for Reform; 2015
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.
I see this as the sort of article that we need to see more of at MIA. America has a serious prescription drug problem, and no wonder. Psychiatric drugs are not medicine. So long as doctors continue to confuse personal problems with medical conditions, and sedative or intoxicating substances with curative agents and antibiotics, you are going to get this sort of thing. Psychiatric treatment today is often more a matter of stifling complaints with brain numbing drugs than it is anything else. The problem with synthetic opiates is obvious. Drug addiction is no solution to drug addiction. Nor is death and injury the solution to bad nerves and the jitters of stage fright. Drugs do little or nothing to resolve the underlying conflicts that may be keeping a good person down and out. I don’t think merely prosecuting the biggest offenders will ever be going far enough. We need to get doctors to stop prescribing drugs as the answer to anxiety, sadness, and phobias of all sorts. They are no answer, and they often, all too often, merely lead to bigger problems than the one’s they were prescribed for. Thank you for this post, Richard. Hopefully it can go somewhere when it comes to stopping all the death and dying that comes of the prescription substance abuse that we see all around us every day of the week.
Thanks for the positive feedback.
I actually started this blog right after I heard about Prince’s death. I speculated right from the very second the news came out about his overdose that somehow we would eventually find out that benzos were involved.
My first draft only contained some speculation about Prince’s death which has now been verified in an AP article that came out yesterday. However, “the powers that be” ONLY want to focus on FENTANYL and Mexican drug cartels or rogue Chinese factories shipping fentanyl to this country as a diversion from the main culprits that are right in our own backyard. Nobody has been willing to expose and target Big Pharma, Psychiatry and the FDA for their central (and complicit) role in the opiate overdose epidemic.
I have been writing about the central role of benzos in the opiate overdose crisis for several years now and very few people have listened. I have approached multiple media people and not one has agreed to deeply investigate this story.
The clues to the role of benzos in this epidemic are right in front of people’s eyes. I hope this blog helps to uncover more of the truth and serves as some type of wake up call for those who are oblivious to this problem or want to become more active in ending prescription drug abuse.
People are dying of these drug cocktails, licit and illicit. Usually it is a matter of mixing pain killers with benzos. Every time over the counter prescriptions drugs are implicated, you’re also implicating the FDA, Big Pharma, bio-psychiatry, and beyond, current medical practice and the overall political climate. Were the maxim, first do no harm, to be applied, this wouldn’t be happening. You don’t treat people effectively with a palliative. If drugs serve a purpose, that purpose is not to effect a cure. Treatment with fewer, or no drugs has got to be an improvement over present practices that are, when they aren’t actually killing patients, maiming and debilitating them. Of course, much of this death industry is fueled by drug companies efforts to maximize profits. Put people, and their health in particular, above the profit motive, and you do things differently. Health should be the first concern of the medical profession, and this just isn’t the case any more. We have a medical profession that has become sidetracked from its primary mission by its own conflicts of interest.
Yes, the profit motive and its reflective economic and political system ultimately corrupts everything in both science and medicine. This stands as a major impediment to all human progress.
Heroin was marketed as non habit forming version of opium. One hundred years later Xanax was marketed as a non addictive version of Valium. Some still argue benzodiazepines aren’t addictive, using a slippery definition of addiction. Even in journals the use of the word “abuse” is often used to infer that people dependent on benzodiazepines are not using them as prescribed. The public isn’t ready to adapt to a world that your family doctor has no idea if “Xanax is right for you”.
I’ve seen the same thing with sleeping pills too.
I get the impression our MD’s and the pharmaceutical industry are mentally still in the early 1970’s, when benzodiazepines were introduced as a safe (“safe”) alternative to the old-time barbiturates. Now they’re locked in their time warp, determined to silence anyone who disagrees with their antiquated beliefs, much the way our religious fundamentalists are trying to silence anyone who doesn’t believe in the literal infallibility of the Bible, a document written by committee over a span of 2000 years.
You make a lot of sense and your comparison with religion is so true.
It is not so hard to understand why medicine is stuck in this “time warp” when you look at how the drive for profits and the protection of narrow guild interests corrupts everything and stands as a barrier to medical safety and human progress.
Most people who become dependent on benzos ARE taking them as prescribed. The horrors of this dependency has been written about many times at MIA.
Opiate drugs are massively over prescribed. Most people who develop a dependency on opiates, either legal or illegal, will develop various forms of excessive anxiety and then commonly be given a diagnosis for an anxiety “disorder. Of course, the “mental health” industry will then frequently prescribe benzos to “treat” the anxiety. These prescription will often become long term.
Now we have the preconditions for a “perfect storm” of dependency and/or addiction that too often leads to fatal overdoses. These are the material conditions that have been a driving force behind the opiate overdose crisis. Most people learn how to take opiates but they often forget about the levels of benzos in their body and this deadly mix will shut down heart and lung function.
And Obama wants to INCREASE the number of people given synthetic opiates (suboxone and methadone) without addressing the benzo problem – a disaster waiting to happen!
I got, as far as, Princes’ father’s disclaimer about, self-iinflicted death and revolted. With that type of attitude, no wonder Prince resorted to benzos for “comfort”.
Actually it was Heath Ledger’s father who blamed his son for his overdose death.
Big Pharma, the FDA, and Psychiatry has kept the broad public in the dark and mislead people about the nature of dependency and addiction problems. If people knew the truth about the role of these these institutions in prescription drug abuse they would quickly would become a target of the masses wrath. I hope to live long enough to see that day.
In the UK there are still plenty of people who are prescribed benzodiazepines for longer than 2-4 weeks, in spite of the official advice:
“between 20 and 25% [of about 11 million prescriptions by GPs annually] of hypnotic prescribing is for quantities greater than 28 units and appears to be at odds with the advice to limit the duration of benzodiazepine hypnotic treatment to two to four weeks.”
Some people have been on them for years. Apart from anything else, aren’t they thought possibly to increase the risk of dementia? Not that anyone can be sure about it.
You are right on several counts. Despite all the official warnings issued in Britain about benzos, they still have an enormous problem. This problem will require major systemic changes; institutions and their leaders will have to fall before we have true drug safety and justice for the victims of prescription drug abuses.
And yes, benzodiazepines are also associated with more fractures and falls, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and higher mortality rates. Outside of a controlled medical setting these are some of the most dangerous drugs on the planet.
And how do you propose to taper Granny off her 20 year xanax habit? (this is my mother on drugs – and we’re terrified to take her off at age 87, in spite of a history of falls, and now, cognitive problems. So, sadly, we’re just going to let her go. As if she had a terminal cancer or something. It doesn’t help that my family doesn’t believe a word I say, or – they just say “It’s too hard.”)
The magnitude of the problem goes beyond prescribing habits – doctors, in the face of Ashton and other less gentle protocols – still cause long term problems with the advice to “cut it in half for a week then quit” advice.
The ***best*** tapering advice I’ve seen from a “standard protocol” doctor is still straight line – reduce by 25% every 2 weeks – and way too aggressive.
Who’s gonna take care of gran when she goes off the benzo rails?
When I was discharged from the “hospital” I left with a big brown bag of “antidepressants” and Ativan. I also was given a script for refills. That idea was that I was to take these for the rest of my life. I promptly ditched all of them, never had the script filled, and never looked back.
For one and a half years I lived in an “iffy” part of town. It was not unusual to see people peddling benzos and hydros door to door. You can buy them cheaply and there’s a constant supply. People, we have a problem and it’s only getting worse and not better.
On top of that, we have to remember that most of the psych drugs are not prescribed by psychiatrists but by GP’s.
You are right about the bad prescribing patterns by primary care doctors: they should know better.
But we can’t forget that it was the billion dollar PR campaigns launched by Psychiatry and Big Pharma in the early 1980’s that sold the public on anxiety “disorders” and the “magic” of benzos as the solution.
The truly aggravating thing I find about the benzo mess, is that the conditions they’re prescribed for can probably be treated without drugs at all, and in some cases be easily treated with niacinamide and/or magnesium salts, both of which have tranquilizing properties. Alas, they have but feeble income generating properties, which means we’re unlikely to see Big Time Psychiatry have any interest in them in our lifetimes.
I am not knowledgeable about some of the supplements you are referencing. However, you are quite correct to say that there are many other interventions for excessive anxiety that do not involve psychiatric drugs. And these non drug interventions are (in the long run) much more effective and do not carry with them all the inherent dangers of the drugs.
People need to find out the source of their anxiety. What conflicts with their environment are creating this anxiety and what physical interventions (such as diet, meditation, exercise etc) and psychological interventions (such as changing thought patterns and related behaviors etc) need to be made over time to manage their discomfort.
When psychiatric drugs are used this usually stops a person from actually seeking out and learning and using the mental and physical skills necessary to solve their problems. Dependency on the psych drugs will become an inevitable result.; problems will usually get worse as a consequence.
Addiction problems, especially involving opiates, will obviously cause major anxiety in a person’s life. Unfortunately contact with Psychiatry and medicine will almost always lead to a diagnosis of an anxiety “disorder” and ultimately to a prescription of benzos. Now a person’s addiction problem will become exponentially worse over time; death always lurks very close by for these people.
I have access to forbidden literature, in this case 30+ years of the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine and one of its predecessors. There are repeat mentions of magnesium salts as treatment for anxiety and panic disorders. Niacinamide has also been suggested there, used for the same or similar purposes. Don’t let the Psychiatric Inquisition know.
Adults with money have always been able to get excessive stuff from doctors. Unless these drugs are re-classified as something like heroin, this is not going to change.
When it comes to giving these drugs to children, that should be prosecuted as Crimes Against Humanity, and in International Court.
“Crimes against humanity are certain acts that are deliberately committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population or an identifiable part of a population. ”
And then anytime a child is sent to a Psychiatrist or a Psychotherapist, there should be court oversight and the child should have an appointed attorney. Otherwise these doctors are just hired co-abusers.
Benzos are seen as so safe in my State that the Minister for Mental Health and the Chief Psychiatrist will authorise the drugging of anyone with the legal status of “patient” without their knowledge with them. I can’t seem to obtain the list of drugs or amounts which can be administered to “patients” without their knowledge, but know benzos can, because it was done to me. And I wasn’t actually a “patient” at the time and didn’t have a mental illness but that was soon changed with a knife dropped in my pocket and a ride with police to a locked ward where in three minutes with a doctor who spoke to me like his pet dog, I then had 3 major mental illnesses that required a fistful of benzos lol.
Cogito ergo sum? Isn’t this to put Descatres before the horse?
These drugs are having a negative impact in a number of areas which are not being discussed, road trauma comes to mind. Thank you for bringing attention to the problem Richard. If nothing else, they can’t say they weren’t told.
I saw his body thrashing ’round
I saw his pulse rate going down
I saw him in compulsive throws
I said “I’ll have some of those”
This Is Serious Mum; I’m on the drug that killed River Phoenix
To obtain the legal status of “patient” requires only that you have spoken to a Social Worker, Psychologist, Doctor or Psychiatrist in your life. And anyone can self appoint themselves as your “carer” at any time soooo….
This means that if your in a night club and your “carer” spikes your drink with benzos (knowing that you are a “patient” because you once spoke to the school psychologist), anything that happens after this is called ‘treatment’. A distinct advantage for the local rapist.
And the lengths these people will go to in order to retrieve the documents proving this…… police threatening to shoot you and dump your body, “they wouldn’t do that” lol
You always make insightful comments and your experience with the “mental Health” system is truly chilling.
Problem with powerful human rights abusers is that they just double down and dig bigger holes. As long as the evidence is not available, they can continue to run with the “patient” label and justify anything they wish. “Police shoot mentally ill man with history of carrying a weapon”? Hmmmm just don’t mention how he was drugged to produce the symptoms, and to aid in the planting of the referral (knife).
I wonder what is going to happen though when mental health starts forcing these drugs down the necks of Muslims. They are strictly prohibited and it would be the equivalent of forcing pork down their throats. Justification being that they resisted ‘treatment’. I see problems.
One quote jumped out at me: “Why is organized medicine failing to grasp the significance of this dangerous prescription pattern…”
My question is, how could they possibly NOT grasp the significance, when even many lay people are well aware that benzos + opiates can equal death? My thought is that they DO grasp the significance, but choose to deny it, because of the powerful interests who need to sell both prescription opiates and benzos for profit. They don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them.
Until we deal with the corruption in the medical field, these “significances” that should be and really are obvious will continue to be ignored. As Upton Sinclair is quoted as saying, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Foreign cartels, rogue doctors, and the actual victims of these prescription abuses themselves are continuously being made the scapegoat for a crisis created by very powerful forces in our society. They will do anything to avoid having the spotlight turned on them. We have a lot of work to do.
Thank you for bringing attention to this issue. It’s very unfortunate that this is taking place. Why isn’t by here a safe and effective way to get off of benzos? The withdrawal symptoms are too much.
Thanks for the comment. I hope you can find the right support. Have you checked out “benzo buddies” at their online website?
Thank you, Richard. I was on there a few years ago when I attempted to come off of a benzo, which I did for a month, but I had to go back on when I couldn’t function. I couldn’t believe how bad my physical and mental symptoms got, much worse than prior to taking them. Now it feels like I’m constantly suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Anyway, I felt like there were too many negative horror stories like mine on the site, and not enough success stories. There has to be someone researching what can be used to minimize the withdrawal symptoms, yet I haven’t come across anything. I almost feel like going back to school so I can do the research and whatnot.
I am sorry to hear about your difficulties. I have a close friend who is receiving positive help for benzo withdrawal (and from other psych drugs) from the Point of Return group and Dr. Armstrong mentioned in the other blog on the benzo bill in Texas.
My research and understanding tells me that benzo withdrawal is a protracted process with many ups and downs but it can be successful in the end. I do believe in brain neuroplasticity which means that healing can occur over time.
Also, check out Monica Cassani’s website Beyond Meds for great resource information and positive stories of recovery.
All the best, Richard
You might want to check outhttp://survivingantidepressants.org/ . Once you register as a member, you will have access to the members only benzo forum which you might find to be very helpful.
They have found that an extremely slow taper increases the chances of success. Even if you feel you have already tapered slowly, you might find you need to go even more slowly.
Lots of luck to you.
I’m interested in niacinamide for aid in this withdrawal, as it occupies the same receptor sites as the benzodiazepines. Maybe with magnesium salts- another blogger here found them helpful. Niacin (not the amide) is used in large quantities for alcohol withdrawal, where it shortens the physical withdrawal period in a fairly impressive fashion, eliminating DT’s.
Would niacin (not the amine) then help to regrow instantly the gaba receptors that have been re-absorbed from regular benzo use?
Cuz that’s the issue. As I keep trying to tell you.
I don’t know, to tell you the truth. Maybe over time. What is the origin of DT convulsions? Niacin does prevent them if you use enough. You can also use it in multigram quantities for burnt out chronic alcoholics on a daily basis and 2/3 of them will stay sober over time (Russell Smith, 1975).
It is found that B vitamins of any sort can activate symptoms in withdrawal.
The goal is not to upregulate receptors – because the receptors you have are already raw and trying to re-regulate. Bathing them in any psychoactive substance – even Niacin – can cause flare ups of symptoms.
Magnesium is much safer and supportive, and nourishes the process (required in about 200 transmitter cascades in the body, and depleted in over half of Americans) – just make sure you don’t use Mag oxide, the most commonly sold type.
Go back to the niacin once you have healed from withdrawal. It is excellent for controlling mood symptoms and calming. But not for withdrawal.
Remember – supplement companies are in it for the money, too – and will sell all kinds of ignorant and useless combinations/formulas. Caveat emptor.
That was why I mentioned niacinamide instead of niacin for the benzos. It’s the more tranquilizing of the two, although it isn’t effective for alcohol withdrawal. I’m glad you brought up magnesium, even though I use the oxide for nighttime cramps. I’m not fond of commercial pitches, either, buying my own niacin and ascorbate in bulk- much cheaper than letting myself be diddled by pitchmen. They may be delusional, but I’m the one who prefers to be dysperception-free.
bcharris, it’s not letting me reply directly to your comment, so I am not sure where this comment will end up.
Niacinimide is not used as much in orthomolecular medicine, it doesn’t have the trials behind it that the niacin does.
In withdrawal, your receptors are extra sensitive, so Niacin can be trialled in individual cases, but only in tiny amounts, building up to a full dose (which in my case is 2g per day)
It has the potential to make withdrawals WORSE, which is why I caution people about it. It is excellent for mood management, but only after withdrawal symptoms have ended.
Mag oxide – you may as well go outside and chew on some rocks. It is absorbed about that well, and it is criminal that it is being sold as a supplement at all. Caveat emptor.
There are many forms of chelate (avoid mag aspartate, bad for people with psych issues), most of them are fine, though most prefer mag citrate (cheap, easy to find) or mag glycinate.
The only other supplement besides magnesium which is indicated in withdrawal is Fish oil. It can help with the muscles & brain & soothe the nerves.
History repeats itself. Even after the BZD drugs were introduced, barbiturates were still prescribed. Quaaludes were a favorite of many shrinks until they were put in Schedule I (because putting them in Schedule II –still– didn’t stop over-prescribing). Other “safe” non-barbiturates that were rather quickly proven not so safe, such as Doriden and Placidyl, remained on the market until government officials intervened. Simply getting the medical establishment to recognize the dangers of the barbiturates was quite a task. Even the notoriously addictive “goof balls,” such as Dexamyl (1 part barbiturate, 1 part Dexedrine) remained on the market until the FDA and DEA stepped in.
Point is…encouraging the The Medical Establishment, especially Mental Health, Inc., to self-regulate is fairly pointless. Most doctors I’ve known come from upper class families and have serious ego issues. Because of the MD, they have status and prestige that most of us can’t imagine. Add in coming from an affluent background, plus the authoritarian attitude of the Medical Establishment, and one can see why the government has had to intervene.
I’m not big on government intervention, but…the government (read: tax payers) already pick up the tab for a lot of The Medical Establishment’s “services,” and society has to pick up the tab to take care of the victims of The Medical Establishment (especially Mental Health, Inc.). In the interests of the Common Good–a concept the US needs to revisit, btw–I think the government needs to step in and regulate BZD prescribing and do something constructive about the problems with opiate prescribing. What I can’t understand…many people cannot get proper pain management, but other people happen upon Doctor Feelgoods and end up dead.
The BZD drugs are horrible, especially over the long haul. My own use of Klonopin (by prescription) in my late teens ended horribly. The worst part? If you get addicted, you (the “patient”) have “an addictive personality.” If the doctor gets called out on giving a 19 year old 3mgs/Klonopin per day, plus Sonata at night (every night), the “patient” is deemed “manipulative.” I don’t hold on to much anger about it these days, but…I get angry when I realize that I ran into just 1 run of the mill psychiatrist who quickly destroyed years of my youth…and I have been blamed not only for the doctor’s prescribing habits, but also for the subsequent fall out….and I’m just –1– “patient” this has happened to.
By the grace of God, I’ve survived and recovered, but…what of those who aren’t so fortunate? Who don’t have loving parents to nurture them back to health and normalcy? Who don’t regain their intellectual capacity and bounce back enough to build a new identity?
You make a lot of sense and have provided a good history lesson regarding how long it has taken in the past to get safe regulations for very harmful drugs.
If Psychiatry and the FDA had even one ounce of morality when it comes to benzos they would do the following:
1) Send out immediate warnings regarding the dangers of prescribing these drugs beyond two weeks, or ever at all outside of a non-oppressive controlled medical environment. Dedicate millions of dollars to educational campaigns related to the dangers of these drugs and designate millions to provide research and direct aid to the millions of people attempting to safely engage in protracted withdrawal from benzo dependency.
2) Renounce the past approval of these drugs as a “treatment” for anxiety problems and apologize to the American people (and beyond) for all the deaths and harms they have caused.
3) Initiate a criminal investigation into the role of certain leaders of Big Pharma and Psychiatry who are guilty of fraud and criminal negligence in their campaigns for FDA approval ultimately leading to thousands of deaths.
Of course this would be akin to asking a fox to watch over the chicken coop or expecting Dracula to suddenly start sucking water instead of blood. You get the drift of my cynicism and may understand my dreams of the need for Revolutionary change happening in our future.
And we are still left with the problem of getting those who are now addicted to the drugs – off of them.
You can’t just stop prescribing, and, in fact, in this latest “opiate crackdown,” people who are trying to safely taper benzos have to give a pound of flesh and first-born child to get their scripts.
WEIRDLY, when they announce they want to taper off, the docs just cut them off cold, saying they are “non-compliant.”
Richard, thank you for supporting H4062. I just listened to the hearing. You have a strong voice, and I hope that this passes.
At two and a half years out, I’m still not healed. I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that, due to the impairment of the nerves. an antibiotic or some other drug given may cause heightened anxiety in a former benzo patient. This may be years after the last dose and suddenly the person is thrown into the cataclysmic state that they experienced when first getting off benzos. The CNS remains very sensitive long after the fact for a lot of people. Doctors don’t understand this. They’re answer is “the drug is out of the body.” But the nerve damage had already taken place when the drug was given. The nerve damage can continue for years.
Since I took benzos (Ativan and Klonopin) and am now considered as having a “generalized anxiety disorder,” there is nothing I can do to explain to my family and the doctors that this is the result of the benzos. They won’t hear of benzo damage lasting this long. I can’t defend myself because doctors don’t believe it either. All I can hope is that someday the news about benzos lasting for a very long time will come out in the open. By that time I plan to be healed. But it will help those suffering for an extended period to not feel so terribly alone.
And you are right about the ridiculous tapers that doctors prescribe. Even pharmacists are guilty of this.
If I had done a micro taper or a slower taper, I think I wouldn’t have had the extreme amount of symptoms barraging me. I had no idea how potent these drugs can be, and I’d been dependent on Ativan for quite awhile. I went too fast in my Klonopin taper, and now I’m paying for that. I see a lot of mistakes I made during the process, but it’s all water under the bridge.
You have a powerful story and I hope you continue write about it.
While the focus of my blog is about the deaths caused by combining benzos with opiate (and how this is not fully recognized and/or covered up) your narrative is about a slow “death” that many victims of benzos suffer in protracted withdrawal.
Your insights and knowledge will serve you well when combined with other forms of recovery resources (support groups, diet, and exercise etc.). I have no doubt that you will eventually make it through this. Always good to hear from you at MIA.
But the opiate can be removed in a month.
The benzo, not so easily.
And doctors will tend to prescribe SSRI/SNRI/ADs and/or neuroleptics and/or anticonvulsants to “help” with getting off the benzo, creating even more long term health problems.
It’s dangerous, and it happens all the time.
I’m afraid I’m with Szasz. Government and doctors should not be the gatekeepers to these drugs, and if gran wants to take her laudanum, that’s her choice, and between her and her chemist. But doctors’ job should be to educate gran about the long term consequences of that laudanum (or barbituate, or benzo), and offer resources for getting off it if/when she wants to.
Some people will self-medicate regardless of regulation. We live in a sick society. It’s not necessarily a sickness to numb the pain of poverty, hopelessness, and diminishing futures. The model of Portugal comes to mind, where tolerance and “clubs” has diminished street drug problems.
Sadly, this level of education doesn’t even really happen with alcohol, much less benzos or opiates. It’s only just breaking through in tobacco. Instead, the model seems to be to “shame the addict,” and jail the addict, and once the addict is in an institution, to drug the addict on a whole new cocktail of psych drugs.
Your comments reveal great wisdom and experience with the problems of Biological Psychiatry. However, I differ on a few key points.
You said “I’m afraid I’m with Szasz. Government and doctors should not be the gatekeepers to these drugs, and if gran wants to take her laudanum, that’s her choice, and between her and her chemist.”
Unfortunately Sazsz was in love with capitalism and a profit based economic system. While he made enormous contributions in his critique of Psychiatry and the “mental health” system, his Libertarian views were a major roadblock for his ability to link psychiatric oppression with the tremendous political upheaval of the 1960’s. This failure to make these links with the broader anti imperialist movement served as an impediment to advancing the overall movement against psychiatric oppression.
The main issue here is not opposing big “government intervention” and relying on “individual choice” to dictate the direction of our society on drug safety (and every other important issue). We must first evaluate who the government represents in society. In the current status quo they represent big corporations and the god of profit.
If government truly existed as a political force “of the people, “by the people,” and “for the people” then it would not matter so much how big it was or if it made beneficial interventions in people’s lives.
In fact, if government actually involved MORE of the citizens of our society in a governing role it would help guarantee the prevention of various forms of tyranny.
I’m afraid that, unless and until we have a political movement and a resulting government NOT run by corporate interests AND willing to prosecute and jail people who knowingly harm people for their own personal gain, none of these problems with benzos and opiates (and all other psychiatric drugs) stands a chance of going away.
Concede. I got a little pie-in-the-sky idealistic there, as I hate seeing “addicts” treated like “criminals,” (whether they “choose” to be addicts or not) This criminalisation feels the next step in this regulation process.
So which is worse? Medicalisation or criminalisation? At the moment, I see them as comparable, and the more the law gets involved in treatment orders, no contact orders for parents, and involuntary hospitalisations as the psych drug cocktails are increased to “cure” the addict.
And it is very easy, as demonstrated by the many commentators here in MIA, to call a patient “non-compliant” and throw away the keys.
Adjusting a benzo is one of these things, especially if it gets put under the eye of criminal justice and drug courts.
And I cannot help but agree (though today’s libertarianism is a far cry from the 70’s version!) that the government needs to protect the people from the corporations, and not the other way around.
Thank you for bringing up a stimulating discussion! The individual increasingly has nowhere to go. It is a rock and a hard place – the evil drugs we are stuck with vs. the evil corporations who made them, vs. the law which serves those corporations. And the media which promotes the corporate system of “label” and “drug.”
“I have no doubt that you will eventually make it through this.”
Thank you so much! It is so good to read that. I have lost faith many, many times. It’s tiring to keep slogging through, month after month. I appreciate people such as yourself who have insight and work so tirelessly to solve this tremendous issue!
drt, and others,
It will get better. I am over four years past my last tapered dose of Xanax, and while I still have tinnitus (I was also on antidepressants for years), I feel generally quite good. Go have a look at the help sites others have put up like benzobuddies and read everything you can. Knowledge is power Good luck
Thanks for writing this, Benzodiazepines are very dangerous drugs indeed, and they have killed lots of people. Not just celebrities. Many, many more will die because of these drugs, and the reckless FDA that approved them.
Thanks for that feedback. I’m surprised more people were not stimulated by the title and the overall subject matter. Perhaps I could have written it more concisely and to the point.
Am I alone in suspecting that all the bad press on benzos (deadly when mixed with opiates, got it) may be a way to push more antidepressants on patients suffering from anxiety? Doctors in these parts (Montreal) will sooner prescribe a life-time supply of anti-depressants to patients with panic disorder or situational anxiety, than a bottle of ten pills of benzos PRN.
Patricia, no you are not alone.
I have referred in my posts above to the escalation of cocktails in an effort to “cure” the “addicts” – thus making new, and even more difficult withdrawals.
Criminilisation or medicalisation? Which is worse? How about both? That is the direction this is heading, as trying to pull people off benzos gets them prescribed more psych drugs in more classes of drugs.
(honestly, I’d rather give a truckload of opiates before giving ONE AD or neuroleptic. You can get off opiates in a month, if motivated. Motivation counts for nothing in coming off ADs or neuroleptics)
It’s not an easy question – how to address the benzo problem without criminalising the benzo users? And how to get people off the benzos safely, without adding other classes of drugs?
Change the laws, make the drugs hard to get – and millions of people worldwide go into instant withdrawal (including my 87 yo mother!). What a mess!