Dec 28, 2011 1 Comment ›› Angelia
Doctors are being sued for creating prescription drug addicts amid claims they have failed to follow safety guidelines published more than 20 years ago.
Lawyers and medical experts have reported an increase in clinical negligence cases by patients left physically and psychologically broken by “indefensible” long-term prescribing of addictive tranquillisers such as Valium, collectively known as benzodiazepines.
Patients taken off the drugs too quickly, leaving them disabled with pain for months if not years, are also seeking legal redress. Many say they were never told about the dangers of rapid detoxification, which can lead to seizures and even death in severe cases. Doctors have been accused of being “in denial” about the problem.
Experts have warned of a coming flood of legal action against doctors who failed to inform their patients about the addictive nature of some tranquillisers, currently given to millions of people worldwide. They are prescribed to deal with common social and psychological complaints, from exam stress to relationship problems and bereavement.
Professor Malcolm Lader, whose research in the 1980s suggested a link between long-term tranquilliser use and brain damage, said he now gives legal advice about negligent prescribing and dangerous detoxifications “at least every three months”.
He told The Independent: “There is no sign that such prescribing is diminishing. The Royal College of GPs is in denial about this because they fear being sued. With around a million long-term users, the [legal] defence unions will at some point decide that these cases are indefensible and GPs will have to pay their own costs.” A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Misuse estimated in 2009 that there were 1.5 million involuntary tranquilliser addicts in the UK. More than 6.6 million benzodiazepine prescriptions for anxiety were dispensed by England’s pharmacies in 2010, a 15 per cent increase in 10 years. Prescriptions for Valium have increased by 20 per cent over the same period.
The first successful legal claim against individual doctors dates back to 2002, when Ray Nimmo, who was prescribed Valium for 14 years, won his case against GPs in Scunthorpe. His lawyer, Caroline Moore, has had five new referrals in the past month.
Some people develop a tolerance after regular use for two weeks, needing a higher dose to induce the same effects; others report using them for years with few adverse effects. For most, stopping is the problem: they can experience a range of painful psychological and physical symptoms, worse than their original complaint.
Dr Adrian Rogers, a GP who is also an expert in medico-legal cases, said: “I can’t believe there aren’t more claims. The fact that lots of doctors are prescribing long-term isn’t an excuse – no responsible GP would do it.”
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