By accident I happened to be listening to PM on Radio 4 yesterday when the story broke about the spat between Alan Johnson and Professor David Nutt, who has just been dismissed as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
He [Nutt] claimed Ecstasy and cannabis are less dangerous than alcohol, and LSD is less harmful than cigarettes.
It seems that Nutt, who is described as a neuropsychopharmacologist (phew!), has been going soft on drugs. Not just Ecstasy and cannabis and LSD, but also prescription tranquillizer benzodiazepines. According to Nutt in my Name, he has said that:
“The case for benzodiazepine dependence causing real damage has not been made.”
This is not the view of Dr John Marsden, also of the ACMD, who has said:
"If any drug over time is going to just rob you of your identity and be an ironic reaction to early
effectiveness – [leading] to long, long term disaster, it has to be benzodiazepines."
Translation: If there are drugs which over time are going to rob you of your identity though they
may have been effective early on, it has to be the benzodiazepines. When prescribed long-term
they lead to disaster for individuals.
The article continued:
Nutt has no evidence for his views that would stand up in the court of experience and perhaps
not in medicine and to produce anything that purported to be that would be to pervert the reality
lived through by tens of thousands. It would be rather like claiming the survivors of the
holocaust enjoyed the experience.
Let us indeed go before the court of personal experience. For until relatively recently I was myself a long term user of a 'classical' benzodiazepine, known as Flurazepam or Dalmane. Every night, for over 25 years, I'd take one 15 mg Dalmane tablet just before going to bed, very often washed down with neat whisky. If I didn't take one, that was the cue for a sleepless night. They cost about £25 for 60 tablets. Over 25 years I must have filled the coffers of ICN Pharmaceuticals with some £4000, or about 10 holidays in Spain. No wonder they're so rich.
It was, strangely enough, the smoking ban that induced me to quit Dalmane. I'd noticed that, every now and then, I'd fall asleep at night after forgetting to take a tablet. I only seemed to get sleepless nights when I knew that I'd not taken one. I'd begun to wonder whether Dalmane might in fact be a placebo. When the smoking ban came into force, I began to fear that, now that doctors had been co-opted into the war on smokers, visits to the doctor to collect my prescription would be met with concerted attempts to get me to stop smoking. Since this was the only reason I ever went to my doctor, then if I could learn to sleep without Dalmane, there would be no further need to visit. So, one night, after upping the dose of neat whisky with which I usually washed them down, I stopped taking the tablets. No cutting down or anything. Dead stop.
I suffered one or two nights of disturbed sleep, but that was all. There were no withdrawal symptoms. It's now been over 2 years since I stopped taking Dalmane, and I've been sleeping perfectly well. I perhaps sleep rather more lightly than I used to sleep. I wake earlier than I used to. My sleeping potion these days is pure whisky. And I have been noticing that, some nights, I fall asleep without touching a drop of the stuff.
And now today I have discovered that I am pretty much a holocaust survivor. And I have furthermore discovered that my habit of washing down Dalmane with a large whisky was a near-fatal practice. Yet, somehow or other, I seem to have survived 25 years of Dalmane addiction with no ill effects whatsoever. I have not been 'robbed of my identity'. I have not met with 'disaster'. I have suffered virtually no side-effects at all, both throughout the 25 years I was taking benzodiazepine, and in the 2 years since I stopped.
The explanation may simply be that it is not benzodiazepine - or any other drug - that robs people of their identity, but that it is people who rob other people of their identity, of their worth, of their status, by branding them as contemptible 'drug addicts' and the like. It is all these filthy self-righteous health experts who are robbing people of their identity, and visiting disaster upon them, as they stigmatise them as smokers or drinkers or fat people. What else, for example, is the 'denormalisation' of smokers but the systematic destruction of their good name, their sense of personal value, their community networks?
For what little it's worth, my experience of benzodiazepine bears out David Nutt's view of these drugs. But what Nutt really wants to do is to make tobacco and alcohol into proscribed drugs. He is only seeking to re-normalise tranquillizer prescription drug users so that he can de-normalise smokers and drinkers. The spat between Nutt and Johnson is really just a row among the righteous about who to denormalise and vilify and demonise next.
But in the court of experience - my own experience - tobacco and alcohol have done me no more harm than my benzodiazepine habit. And so a plague on both Johnson and Nutt. A plague on both their houses. And upon every single one these self-important bastard experts, and upon every single one of those mendacious politicians who choose at one moment to accept their advice, and at another moment to reject it.