Benzos, BMA and Betrayal (an Afterthought)

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA

My article ‘Benzos, the BMA and Betrayal’ has, with one exception, attracted nothing but complaints and criticism. Some of the complaints have been patronising. Some have simply been rude. And some have managed to be both. My article was intended to be helpful, to provide some vital historical background and some hints and clues on which way the battle might best be directed.

But it seems that everyone is now an ‘expert’. (Though I wonder how many of these ‘experts’ have a medical degree and clinical experience of dealing with addicts.) And campaigning for change has become an industry. I suspect there maybe grants to be won, advertising to be gained and power to be enjoyed.

There have even been suggestions that the word ‘addiction’ is now less acceptable than the word ‘dependence’ to some benzodiazepine addicts.

This is, I fear, a result of a bow in the direction of fashion rather than a result of any scientific thought process.

As I pointed out in my book Addicts and Addictions in 1986 (now out of print), when this discussion was first aired, the words ‘addiction’, ‘dependence’ and ‘habituation’ are pretty much interchangeable . Every expert in the world agreed with this then and I believe that all would agree with it now.

Fussing about terminology is as helpful as worrying about the colour of the tablets prescribed and is likely to lead only to confusion. It is a pointless distraction.

Since I am the only person whose campaigning has led to any positive and useful change (the legislation of 1988) it seems pertinent to point out that this was done by me working alone and it was done by fighting an all-out battle against the medical profession, the drug industry, governments everywhere and civil servants and bureaucrats. They said nasty things about me. I said nasty things about them. I spent a lot of my own money. I received no grants and no advertising. And after 15 years they rolled over and I won.

Since then, in the aftermath of that judgement, thousands of self-appointed experts, working in hundreds of small groups, organisations and charities, have, for nearly 30 years, cooperated with governments and the medical profession in a search for some sort of further solution to a continuing problem.

They have, predictably, got absolutely nowhere. The medical establishment and the government are far too influenced by the drug industry to be truly sympathetic to the needs of patients who have been abused and betrayed. Doctors caused this problem and now have a duty to provide real help.

However, since I am now too old and too tired to put up with more patronising abuse, I will retire from this particular fray and fight other battles.

I will leave the self-appointed experts, who are so eager to battle on in cooperation with the medical profession and the government, to enjoy their committee meetings and their neatly printed minutes. Maybe they will eventually succeed in changing the colour of one or two of the most popularly prescribed benzodiazepines.

But that, I am afraid, is all they will succeed in doing.

You don’t change the course of a steamship by worrying about the colour the funnel is painted.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 23.7.17