Monday, July 13, 2009

Letter re Welfare Reform Bill

Thursday 9th July 2009

The Right Honourable Jim Knight M.P.

Department for Work and Pensions

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your letter of 30 June 2009. My question was: in what circumstances would the provisions of the Welfare Reform Bill be extended to Involuntary Tranquilliser Addicts. Your answer is that you will gauge from your pilots with heroin and crack addicts whether the new regime is likely to have a positive impact on other groups of drug users.

Involuntary Tranquilliser Addicts are normal people who have become addicted to prescription tranquillisers through no fault of their own. They have been introduced to these drugs by doctors without proper warnings of the dangers involved, of addiction and side effects. These people have had no opportunity to make an informed choice. They are often left on these drugs for many years and decades and as a result are often unable to work. Withdrawal is a complex and painful process and many tranquilliser addicts are unable to withdraw without expert information and support. This help is not provided by the NHS. I am therefore suggesting tranquilliser withdrawal services should be provided to ITA under the provisions of the Welfare Reform Bill.

Involuntary Tranquilliser Addicts are a completely different group of people from heroin and crack addicts. ITA are involuntary addicts of prescribed drugs, heroin and crack addicts are voluntary addicts of illegal drugs.

Therefore I believe that your approach is misconceived in that you will not be able to draw valid conclusions of the impact of the new Welfare Reform Bill regime upon Involuntary Tranquilliser Addicts from the pilots conducted with voluntary drug addicts. You are not comparing like with like.

In any case we already know the impact of withdrawal treatment upon ITA. Success rates are high for withdrawal treatment. David McKeown for example, the NHS’s only prescribed medication nurse, recorded his work in the Falls Family Doctors practice in Belfast from December 2006 to March 2008. Complete cessation was achieved by 57% of patients who were on long term tranquilliser prescriptions. The coercion and sanctions component of the Welfare Reform Bill is not necessary for ITA as they are normal people and are highly motivated to be rehabilitated back to work. Treatment of ITA is cost-effective. We have already provided the DWP with estimates of costs from the tranquilliser withdrawal charity CITA (Council for Information on Tranquillisers) of £2,000 per client for withdrawal treatment.

The numbers involved in ITA are large, an estimated 2 million people are on long-term prescriptions for benzodiazepine tranquillisers (1.5m) and Z tranquillisers (0.5m.) This is a larger target group, and the potential number of people who could be rehabilitated back to work, if the scheme were successfully applied to ITA, would be much larger than for illegal drugs.

Involuntary Tranquilliser Addicts are suffering from an illness created by the NHS. They then suffer discrimination on the basis of that illness in that the NHS will treat people addicted to illegal drugs but not those addicted to these prescribed drugs. The implementation of the Welfare Reform Bill is extending discrimination by including voluntary drug addicts but excluding involuntary tranquilliser addicts from the scheme.

Furthermore the provision of future assistance from the Welfare Reform Bill for Involuntary Tranquilliser Addicts has been made dependent upon the performance in the pilot projects of voluntary drug addicts, a notoriously unreliable group of people.

I would like to suggest that the way forward is to set up a Welfare Reform Bill pilot project designed to assist ITA by providing withdrawal services followed by rehabilitation back to work. This could be based on the Belfast prescribed medication clinic and the existing tranquilliser withdrawal charities in Bristol (Battle Against Tranquillisers) and Liverpool (CITA).

This would enable large groups of people to receive the treatment they need and would enable many to return to work. It would save patients from many years of addiction and its effects, the loss of health, jobs, homes, and marriages. It would also achieve the large saving to the taxpayer that the Welfare Reform Bill is designed to achieve.

Yours sincerely,

Jim Dobbin MP