Once regarded as wonder drugs against anxiety, depression and other undesirable mental states, these medicines are under scrutiny now that a 30- year-old, leaked study shows that risks and dangers were known early on, yet the drugs were prescribed anyway.
Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed types of neurological drugs in developed countries since the first ones were developed in the 1960s. Valium, Librium, Sobril, Xanax, Xanor, Ativan -- a list of all names under which so-called benzodiazepines (BZD or Benzos) are on the market is too long to print here but will be included at the end of this article.
Warnings about the addictive properties of these drugs have been sounded in the past, and it is not difficult to find reports about studies such as the one from May 2010 on the website of Science Daily. That article addressed the long-term use of anti-anxiety drugs in British Columbia, Canada, where the drugs are continuing to be prescribed for extended periods to patients, especially so-called baby boomers, despite many warnings against long-term use.
Here a sample paragraph from that article which addressed some of the known risks when using these drugs:
Results show that seniors and low-income earners are more likely to be long-term users of benzodiazepines, with rates remaining steady over a 10-year period. Meanwhile, use among the middle-aged population has increased. Harms associated with long-term use (more than 100 days in a year) can include dependence and tolerance, cognitive impairment, and increased risks of falls in the elderly.
Today, however, a leaked document supposed to remain unpublished until 2014 has been obtained by the The Independent on Sunday. The article says Secret documents reveal that government-funded experts were warned nearly 30 years ago that tranquillisers that were later prescribed to millions of people could cause brain damage.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) agreed in 1982 that there should be large-scale studies to examine the long-term impact of benzodiazepines after research by a leading psychiatrist showed brain shrinkage in some patients similar to the effects of long-term alcohol abuse.
However, no such work was ever carried out into the effects of drugs such as Valium, Mogadon and Librium – and doctors went on prescribing them to patients for anxiety, stress, insomnia and muscle spasms.
In the following decades, while millions of people were given the drugs, various agencies and individual researchers have tried to get government funding for large-scale studies into the drugs' risks, yet no single study has ever been carried out. The newly revealed documents, marked "closed until 2014", do not show just why no work was ever funded to prove or disprove the 1982 findings by Professor Lader. Apart from the ominous "closed until 2014" note on the documents, it is a surprising fact that the Department of Health has no record of any meeting in which they were discussed.
We will certainly hear and read more about this, considering that there are an estimated 1.5 million "involuntary addicts" in the UK alone, and because individuals, consumer agencies and pharma-watch-dogs may go to court soon and start class actions against both government and pharmaceutical companies. After all, among users of benzodiazepines, scores display symptoms consistent with brain damage.
Alphabet of benzodiazepines (may not be comprehensive)
Anxom, Apodorm, Apzepam, Ativan, Centrax, Dalmane, Doral, Dormonoct, Euhypnos, Fluscand, Frisium, Halcion, Klonapin, Klonopin, Lexomil, Lexotan, Librium, Liktorivil, Mogadon, Nobrium, Noctamid, Normison, Oxascand, Paxipam, ProSom, Restoril, Rivotril, Rohypnol, Serax, Serenid, Serepax, Sobril, Stesolid, Temesta, Tranxene, Tropium, Valium, Xanax, Xanor.
Note: The above names are mainly European ones. In the US, and perhaps elsewhere, other names are in use and valium -- for example -- is known as diazepam.