September 02, 2013


In July, Addiction Dependency Solutions held a “seminal event” in parliament chaired by the shadow health secretary, to take action on addiction to prescription drugs. Tom Whiting reports in the first of a three-part cover story.

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Parts 2 and 3 of the cover story:
Dr James Davies shares his controversial but factual presentation
5,000 women poisoned by benzodiazepines


Andy BurnhamLabour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham MP chaired a Question Time-style debate in parliament this summer on the topical issue of addiction to prescription drugs. It consisted of a panel of clinicians, service users and experts in their respective fields who have direct experience of addiction to prescription drugs and treatment services.

Rhona Bradley“This was the first time we held an event on this issue in parliament and marked a momentous day for many people in the room who have been campaigning for increased awareness of the debilitating effects of addiction to prescription drugs, such as benzodiazepines, for many years,” said Lady Rhona Bradley, CEO of ADS which organised the event.

Addiction to these drugs have devastating and lasting effects on individuals and their families and the need for increased provision of direct and targeted treatment services for those who are addicted to prescription drugs was highlighted.

Fotolia_4549278_Gina SandersCurrently, there is little treatment available for those who suffer from prescription drug addiction, with only a handful of dedicated addiction-to-prescription-drug services across the UK.  As a progressive 21st century charity, ADS aims to “represent those who need help the most and do everything to help people in need”. Working with the Oldham PCT and Barry Haslam of Oldham Tranx – a voluntary support group for those suffering from addiction to prescription drugs – it started providing an addiction-to-prescription-drug service in Oldham in 2004, working with dynamic commissioners.

The event chaired by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham MP pivoted round a panel consisting of Bradley, Haslam, Dr James Davies who is a lecturer in social anthropology and psychotherapy at Roehampton University, Dr Jack Leach who is a consultant in substance misuse, Dr Richard Martin who is assistant director of Public Health for Derby Council, James Sutherland who is lead commissioner for Public Health for Derby Council, and John, a service member of Oldham Tranx.

Each panellist outlined their background, experience and views on addiction to prescription drugs before the debate was widened, and questions taken from the floor. All the panellists were of the opinion that addiction to prescription drugs is an issue that has been buried under the carpet for too long and centralised action is needed on a national scale to offer guidance and results.

This view was most notably aired by Haslam who, drawing on his own experience of addiction to prescription drugs, described the lack of help he faced in his battle with addiction and the resultant health problems he suffered. This spurred him on to vociferously campaign on the issue for the past 20 years. He is determined to get results.

Fotolia_4955612_mark hulsOne of the most striking comments of the day came from Davies who during his discussion of how people are often ‘placed’ on prescription drugs without getting to the root of the problem, which is often as a result of mental health-based anxiety and stress, said that “15% of the UK public at one time are on some form of prescription medication as a result of mental health issues”.

The statistic highlighted the scale of the issue, with many of these drugs being addictive within four weeks of use and resulting in dependence in as short a time as six weeks of use.

The panel’s consensus was shared by the audience, with questions reflecting the need for increased political awareness and action on the issue, with one audience member, Dr Malcolm Lader, drawing on his years of experience to declare that time has come to acknowledge the divisive role prescription drugs are playing in our society, and direct treatment is needed to curb their long term ill-effect.


With a member of Public Health England in attendance, it was left to Burnham to quiz that representative on why the current guidelines and protocols for services for addiction to prescription drugs are so weak (see earlier article). The representative’s response indicated that “it is up to local authorities to take action on the issue following guidance from Public Health England”. It was thus left to Burnham to question the logic of the answer, saying “that doesn’t answer the question – clearly more needs to be done”.

As panellists drew on their expertises and personal stories of the issue and questions from the audiences mirrored their views, Burnham and the raft of other MPs, peers and parliamentarians in attendance had little doubt of the scale and scope of addiction to prescription drugs in this country. In summarising the Addiction to Prescription Drugs information after all speakers had given evidence, Burnham declared that more had to be done on the issue, and it was a time to take action, which for too long has been ignored in parliament. As a national issue it needs national guidance and action, including about the overprescribing of drugs and aiming towards more holistic solutions. In his role as Labour’s shadow health secretary, he will aim to re-align health and social care as part of the NHS.

Bradley described the event as “a great success” adding that “this was the first time ADS held an event in the heart of UK policymaking and the first time that ‘addiction to prescription drugs’ was highlighted on a national scale in Westminster” apart from the All Party Group on Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction. 
“As a progressive charity, we will build on this momentum and represent and highlight the needs of our clients while also championing a cause which has clearly affected many in this country, and an issue that should be acted on with haste.”

Tom Whiting is development officer of ADS


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