Editorial: This post comes from a Belgian colleague.
Belgium’s best-selling pop singer Stromae has been talking about his drug-induced illness all over the media since last year. He claims the anti-malaria drug Lariam (mefloquine) made him instantly psychotic and caused long-term anxiety problems which have already persisted for 3 years after stopping the drug, and still counting.
It is not that I don’t believe him – we should give him the benefit of the doubt in matters like these – but in a country such as Belgium, which has the highest prescription rates for benzodiazepines in the world, and also very high antidepressant and antipsychotic use, not a single person has ever been allowed to blame his symptoms on a prescribed drug. Ever. There are literally ZERO confirmed and officially recognized cases of benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome in Belgium.
Certainly my protracted withdrawal syndrome has never been validated, and I was on 7 different benzos, all on prescription and taken as prescribed, for nothing more than plain insomnia. I was also taken off the tablets abruptly no less than 6 times, by the best psychiatrists of the country.
So what’s the deal with Stromae then? His doctors believed him instantly, and his diagnosis “sick as a result of the pills” is doubted by no one. He can talk about his illness freely without anyone stopping him. If ordinary mortals like myself say the drugs made us ill they treat us as attention-seeking loons.
It’s also interesting to note that the singer openly admits he was already on the verge of a nervous breakdown prior to taking Lariam. I looked up the frequency of serious complications with this medication and all sources say it is only 1 in 10.000. I assume this is an underestimate but still the actual percentage would never be as high as 15% of users, which is how many benzo users get into serious trouble with also long-term damage after quitting (as in YEARS).
Roche by the way are responsible for both Lariam and the benzodiazepines.
I’ve already told our Minister of Health that I don’t have to take this. Millions of Belgians are with 100% certainty sick because they take prescription drugs, and none of them is ever believed. But now a celebrity says he was damaged by medication he took for a couple of days 3 years ago and he gets away with it.
I have not received a reply from our Minister of Public Health yet regarding the Stromae case versus the total neglect of benzo victims. But I know she reads my e-mails, or at least her staff does, because in the past I have received replies on different matters.
Also in my letter of complaint to the minister was this: in January, a leading Belgian child psychiatrist denied on live TV that we prescribe too many antidepressants to children. He actually suggested that there’s a problem of under-treatment. The word ‘side-effect’ was not mentioned once during the 15-minute interview. He blamed just about everything and everyone for the failing mental health system… except psychiatry and its pills, because those never fail. He also added that psychiatrists are perfectly aware of the scientific guidelines when prescribing drugs, and that they always follow them.
I wrote to the TV channel that aired this interview and I demanded that the psychiatrist in question takes back his words. They promised me they would look into the matter, but it’s been several months now and nothing has been done about it.
If you’re in need of an appropriate title for an article on Stromae and his officially acknowledged side-effects of a prescribed drug, here is a suggestion: ‘Tous les mêmes‘, which is French for ‘Everybody the same’. It’s also one of his biggest hits.
hIf everybody is equal, then why is he the only Belgian ever in history whose side-effects are validated?
My point is that my case against the pills and the doctors who prescribed them to me is certainly very much stronger than Stromae’s case, given that he was already mentally unstable before the Lariam, which he also admits. And then there’s the 1 in 10.000 frequency of serious complications with Lariam, which is also very much lower than the 1 in 7 who develops protracted withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines.
I think you can understand my frustration. And it’s not just me but literally MILLIONS of Belgians who are in a similar position. The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome is NEVER diagnosed in Belgium. Ever. Nor are the side-effects of antidepressants and antipsychotics. Every psychiatrist told me they had never seen a single patient who had trouble coming off those drugs in their entire career. So I’m making up my symptoms, they said, because there’s no other explanation.