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. MPs and lawyers described the documents as a scandal, and predicted they could lead the way to a class action costing millions. There are an estimated 1.5 million "involuntary addicts" in the UK, and scores display symptoms consistent with brain damage. There are a growing number of claims a gainst individual doctors for negligent prescribing benzodiazepines. Ray Nimmo, prescribed Valium as a muscle relaxant for stomach pain in 1984, received £40,000 in an out-of-court settlement in 2002 after 12 years of addiction. In the 1980s 17,000 claimants began a class action against the pharmaceutical manufacturers Roche Products and John Wyeth. Procedural delays, technical motions and escalating costs prevented the cases coming to trial.
Nina Lakhani, The Independent On Sunday