About those Benzos....

Philosopher Lao Tzu summed it up best: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." So too does the journey of a thousand torments begin with a single benzo. Blatant Canary was born out of a harrowing medical injury from benzodiazepines taken as prescribed.

Adding insult, indignity and isolation to injury, the medical community proved to be the least knowledgeable place to turn for help. Bitter personal experience confirmed a knowledge and empathy deficit with an injury escaping routine diagnostics. Instead, this kind of chemical brain/body injury (and subsequent pain and suffering) is conflated with addiction and/or mental health resulting in blame assigned to the sufferer. (What did I do, think or feel to bring this on?) Why should this be the case? 

In part, this stems from medicines' incomplete understanding of benzodiazepines far reaching effects. Medical research is limited to the safety of short term (2-4 weeks) treatment of acute anxiety, only. However, benzodiazepines are prescribed long term for a variety of reasons, including off label usage outside of psychiatry, such as restless leg syndrome, insomnia and perimenopause.

Thus, when side effects are experienced during treatment or discontinuation, this lack of relevant medical data creates flaws in medical reasoning and runs the risk of a misdiagnosis. Without a complete understanding of how extensively the drug manipulates brain and body chemical messengers, this flawed reasoning will lead to generalized probability judgments, inaccurate conclusions and probable diagnoses plucked from the DSM-V (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). (Feeling tingling arms and legs while tapering benzodiazepines? "Clearly, you suffer from generalized anxiety disorder!")  And, once incorrectly diagnosed and labeled, treatment continues based upon an incorrect assumption. The root cause of the injury becomes difficult to uncover and appropriately treat.

Medicine's reliance on incomplete data does not end there: beyond a lack of research, current practice is unable to clinically capture relevant signs of injury. The severe disruption to neurochemistry, sex hormones and interactions along the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal gland) are not readily captured on routine diagnostics. There is a clear constellation of disruption to bodily function, but it falls just short of recognizable pathology - pheochromocytoma for example. Of course, medicine has not improved its diagnostics despite acknowledging their inadequacy; instead long bouts of suffering are foisted upon patients until disease is magnified to the point of being quantifiable. Or, continued categorization of the constellation of symptoms under "mental health" providing an out for the current testing limitations for iatrogenic (drug induced) injuries. 

Further adding to the medical mismanagement, prescribers are not required to fully inform consumers of all potential risks prior to treatment. The critical facts of the drug’s potential to inflict widespread hormonal and neuroendocrine disruption, for example, are unsaid. Warnings of possible severe consequences while tapering are largely unmentioned. (Seizures, cognitive decline, adrenaline spikes, nervous system instability, extreme muscle stiffness, nerve pain or hormonal deregulation). Prescribers are also not required to be medically trained in current and safest exit strategies of the very benzodiazepines they prescribe. In my own lived experience, the recommendations were:

  • "Become the expert" - find your own way off and good luck!
  •  "Treatment with an addiction specialist" - if one can be found, afford the exorbitant costs and deal with the stigmatization of addiction.
  • "Trial and error" - accept polypharmacy without clinically captured data to guide medical reasoning. Despite you feeling ill on the benzo I prescribed, I neglected to share that it is my policy to prescribe for life; I do not make it a part of my practice to take patients off. I lack expertise in that area.

Considered acceptable medical practice, this less than scientific approach to tapering benzodiazepines resulted in years of hormonal upheaval, burning limbs and a spinal column wrapped in barbed wire sensations with muscle contractions threatening permanent right eye closure on a daily basis, for years.  This chemical injury, or iatrogenisis, is the next drug crisis following directly on the heels of the opioid crisis. Why is the medical community blatantly ill-equipped to handle injury from taken-as-prescribed benzodiazepines?

The canary has been in the coal mine warning and urging change for decades. The damning accumulation of evidence extends back to the 60’s!

  • In 1979, the late senator Ted Kennedy held a congressional hearing on the dangers of diazepam sponsoring legislation that would require that more information on diazepam’s effects be given to consumers. No action was taken.
  • In the 90’s, Dr. Heather Ashton, Professor Malcolm Lader and Robert Whitaker persistently advocated for change via research, publications and interviews.
  • And, most recently, organizations and online patient feedback support forums like benzobuddies.org, The Alliance for Benzodiazepine Best Practices and The Benzodiazepine Information Coalition have all further elevated this iatrogenic health crisis as a direct result of chronic and taken-as-prescribed benzodiazepines.

The evidence is clear. The warnings are out there. Why are they not reaching consumers? Why is the medical establishment largely silent? How long must this continue, giving those following doctor's orders a mere sense of synthetic safety?

At Blatant Canary, our focus is on communicating the accumulated facts of the dangers of taken-as-prescribed benzodiazepines. We support an information position and are working to keep the conversation constantly moving forward while supporting research into benzodiazepine withdrawal injury. Our goal is to keep consumers living safely in the know.

Join in the conversation. Be blatant. Bring change!