Former addict sets up prescription drugs support group in Bradford (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Former addict sets up prescription drugs support group in Bradford
A support group for those addicted to prescribed and over-the-counter medication has been set up in Bradford by one man who managed to wean himself off the drugs.
Tens of thousands of prescriptions are estimated to be issued each year locally for the drugs such as benzodiazepines and ‘Z’ drugs, which can become addictive if taken over time and lead to extreme withdrawal symptoms.
These drugs have well known brand names such as Valium and Librium.
Now Bridge, the largest drugs charity in Bradford, which provides services for people with substance misuse problems such as heroin, crack and other illicit drugs, is helping to facilitate the support group created by Paul – not his real name – who managed to wean himself off benzodiazepines, although he experienced horrendous withdrawal symptoms.
Jon Royle, the chief executive of Bridge, said that although no-one knows exactly how many people have become addicted to them, in 2009 more than ten million prescriptions were issued in England and estimates are that more than one million people nationally may have some degree of dependence.
“Used within NHS prescribing guidelines, normally two to four weeks, these drugs have an important clinical role in the treatment of anxiety disorders and insomnia,” Mr Royle said.
“However, long-term use can lead to dependence, which comes with a range of potentially devastating side effects such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, tremors and pain.
“Many of the patients Bridge sees are in their 40s, 50s and 60s and they became dependent as a result of over prescribing in the 1960s and 1980s.
“Paul approached Bridge because he wants to help other sufferers and he is helping to run the first Benzo Support Group in Yorkshire, which will be holding its first meeting in September at the Unity Recovery Centre, 30 Manningham Lane.
“Anyone who is experiencing problems with benzodiazepines or ‘Z’ drugs and would like to join the group should contact Debbie Fielding, Bridge Benzodiazepine specialist worker on (01274) 715834 to find out more.”
Paul, not his real name, was first prescribed Valium around eight years ago, for anxiety and sleep problems caused by work stress.
He said after taking the drug for about a month his stress disappeared, but he started feeling unwell.
He said: “Looking back now, I should have been more than a little concerned, because I often found myself nipping into the toilet before an important, or even an unimportant, meeting and taking my daily Valium dose a little early just so that I’d be able to handle the stress of sitting in a room with other people and having to answer their questions as part of my work.
“Over time, I became more and more unwell and had trouble understanding what was happening to me.
“I went back to see a number of doctors and complained of severe nausea, vomiting, a poor appetite, depression, anxiety, balance problems, heart palpitations, panic attacks, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, and severe insomnia.”
Paul said he found it easy to obtain more Valium, as most of his GPs signed repeat prescriptions.
He said: “By late 2011 I was unable to work and I was on a cocktail of prescription medication and I was feeling extremely unwell indeed.
“Despite having a very episodic memory, I can clearly recall a day when I was walking down my own street and looking back at myself walking down my own street.
“Neighbours and friends were concerned, but didn’t know what to do, as I generally failed to recognise them when they tried to talk to me.”
Paul said he later had a serious accident and was rushed into the hospital in a critical condition. As the medics didn’t know about his Valium prescription, he was withdrawn from it suddenly.
He said withdrawal was “very unpleasant”, but he survived it, returned to work, and started rebuilding his relationships.
Since then, with the support of Professor Heather Ashton, an expert on drug addiction, Paul has put his efforts into helping show others there is “a life beyond Valium”.
Paul said it was important to acknowledge that benzodiazepine drugs could help people and had saved many lives. He also said anyone who has been taking them for a long time should never stop suddenly.