They are the most widely-prescribed drugs in the world. Benzodiazepines - including such tranquilizers and sleeping pills as Ativan, Dalmane, Librium, Rostral, Rivotril, Sera and Valium - are the best-selling drugs in the history of medicine, with annual world-wide sales of an estimated $21 billion.
With such a lucrative market at stake, high-powered promotional campaigns have conviced millions that trnquilizers and sleeping pills are needed to cope with life's everyday challenges. THoughsands of prescriptions - close to two-thirds for women, and almost 75 precent for refills - are witten each day, despite known and often serious physical, cognitive and emotional side-effects. Dependency is not uncommon, and withdrawal can be lengthy and frightening.
The bottom line? Millions of people throughout the world are becoming addicted by prescription.
In 1966, when Joan Gadsby's four-rear-old son died of brain cancer, her doctor prescribed a "chemical cocktail" of sleeping pills and anti-depressants. It was the first step in her twenty-three-year addiction to benzodiazepines - an addiction which threatened her family relationships, financial security, career and personal health. As a result of the drugs' side effects, Gadsby was on various occasions arrested, restrained, sedated, jailed and written off as either psychotic or alcoholic. It was only after she almost died following an unintentional overdose in 1990 that she stopped taking the drugs and tackled the horrors of withdrawal on her own.
A marketing executive who has worked with four of Canada's largest companies and served as a poll-tapping elected councilor, Gadsby has emerged from her addiction to become a tireless advocate in the area of prescribed sedative and hypnotic drugs. In 1995, she formed the Benzodiazepine Call to Action Group. Its objective is to create awareness and lobby for systemic and legislative change that will hold physicians, drug manufacturers, pharmacists, health authorities and political decision makers to a higher standard of ethics and accountability.
Drug free for more than a decade, Gadsby has interviewed thousands - consumers, doctors, health care professionals, pharmaceutical representatives, academics, pharmacists and government officials world-wide. Her extensive international research has earned her recognition as an authority on benzodiazepine addiction.
Joan E. Gadsby is president of Market-Media International Corporation. In 1994, she was selected as one of Canada's notable women by the Canadian University Women's Club. She lives in North Vancouver, British Columbia.