The chilling effects of the “addictive” label
But the main point is that in the U.S. and Britain this drug class became demonized as addictive. In 1975 the US Department of Justice placed Librium and Valium on schedule IV of its list of controlled substances. Being listed as potential drugs of abuse had a chilling effect on prescribing. In New York State a further drop in use followed the 1989 imposition of restrictive triplicate prescription regulations which mandated state monitoring. A 1991 study reported in JAMA that these regulations led to a 44% decrease in benzodiazepine prescribing between 1987 and 1990 – but also an increase in the use of “less acceptable medications” (barbiturates and other traditional tranquilizers) – as well as the emerging, “more expensive” antidepressants buspirone and Prozac.
The anti-benzo backlash was particularly strong in the U.K. Prescribing there peaked in 1979, with 31 million prescriptions, then began a steady decline in response to government warnings. In 1988, the Committee on Safety of Medicines warned of withdrawal symptoms and dependence “following therapeutic doses given for SHORT periods of time” (its emphasis) and recommended limiting their use for a maximum of 2-4 weeks for “disabling” anxiety or insomnia. These restrictions remain in effect, forcing British doctors to “write fraudulent prescriptions” in order to adequately treat catatonia patients. (Healy, 2013)