Staying Younger Longer

74677037_2690350840985413_5893765457436999680_o - CopyThis months international medical conference in Leixlip was addressed by Carrigaline based, Dr Sean Dunphy, his paper entitled “Staying Younger Longer”.

Thank you for your invitation to speak at this years international conference on Low Dose Medicines and Micro immunology.

The current edition of “Update – Endocrinology and Diabetology” reports that Ireland has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe, causing 2000 deaths per year.

Obesity is the primary cause of the global epidemic explosion in type 2 diabetes, which may explain the reduced life expectancy, reported in the USA over the past 3 years.

Woody Allen commented that “he refused to exercise, as he wanted to be sick when he died”.

I saw a funny cartoon on Facebook the other day – it was of a grave stone with a large inscription “If you eat well, get good sleep, exercise and drink plenty of water – you’ll die anyway”.

However in reality this is the perfect formula for a long, healthy and happy life-span.

Studies show that if young girls exercise – they will delay the onset of Osteoporosis and general frailty by 25 years as compared to those you don’t exercise during this early window of opportunity.

The pharmaceutical industry have long dreamed of a mass market Polypill.

In August 2019 the “Lancet” reported an international trial of a new polypill in Iran. This included Aspirin, a Statin, a diuretic and a blood pressure lowering drug (anti-hypertensive).

This was an attempt to medicate vast populations rather than encourage the prevention of disease with healthy lifestyle modifications.

This polypill – with a significant risk of side effects only achieved 2.9% possible benefit after taking it for 5 years and no increase in life expectancy – ie 97% of the participants getting no health benefit – only increased risk of side effects and financial costs.

Experts in evidence based medicine ask 3 questions (1) Can it work? (2) Does it work (3) Is it worth it? The good news is that we already have the answer to a long happy and healthy life span that has no costs, financial or otherwise that is exercise which along with nutrition and sleep can eradicate all the chronic diseases on this planet.

Professor Niall Moyna of Dublin City University on Ted Talk “Stone Age Genes and Space Age Technology” explains the importance of exercise.

We have genetically descended from “Hunter Gatherers”. Those genes require physical activity, otherwise they will maladapt causing chronic diseases.

The Industrial Revolution and the Technological Revolution have played a big part in engineering physical activity out of our lives, so that today it is difficult to be physically active.

We have moved from the physically active society of our grandparents to an inactive society. The vast majority spend our time sitting in front of our screens. For example children previously would have played outdoors. This is the first generation that will have to artificially incorporate physical activity into their lifestyles.

90% of bone mineral deposition occurs before the age of 18 years in girls and before 20 years in boys – an exercise habit in early life will delay the diseases of old age by 25 years, e.g. Osteoporosis.

In 1955 the 34th president of the USA Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack, the treatment at the time was 6 months bed rest – however his cardiologist Paul Dudley White put him on an exercise programme – because the previous years “Lancet” had reported a study of comparing London bus drivers and conductors, the drivers sat all day while the conductors walked up and down and enjoyed 30% less chance of heart disease.

Many studies show that active people have decreased risk of chronic diseases.

Studies show exercise improves mood – 120 min per week is as effective as anti-depressants or C.B.T.

Exercise increases brain cells.

If you sit for more than 30 min you should stand for 90 seconds, e.g. stand every time you answer the phone, “sitting is the new smoking”.

Other studies have suggested that kindness, generosity and positivity can extend your lifespan.

Research earlier this year reported that by jumping off a small box for 6 min per week increases bone strength.

The next important ingredient in extending life expectancy is sleep, professional models know this very well.

In his book and in his Ted Talk, Matt Walker, Sleep Specialist, summarises the problem of sleep deprivation “the shorter you sleep, the shorter your life”.

In the western world we are experiencing a silent sleep loss epidemic which is having catastrophic negative impact on health and wellness resulting in cognitive and memory decline.

Sleep is non-negotiable biological necessity – it is your life support system.

In the same way that your genes maladapt causing illness, if deprived of exercise – similarly genes deprived of sleep will maladapt – the memory circuits of the brain become waterlogged and can’t absorb new memories.

A recent study – reduced sleep by 2 hours per night for 1 week, this resulted in 711 gene distortions / maladapts with increased tumour activity, inflammation and cardiovascular stress.

The Hippocampus is that part of the brain that is brilliant at organising and storing new memories. It is easily disrupted by sleep deprivation but is also   very resilient – a study of London taxi drivers shows that after studying the maps of London for 6 months – their hippocampus / brain got 17% bigger.

In my presentation on Paradigm shifts at last year’s conference I gave an example of the Nobel Prize winning discovery of the significance of H-Pylori over expressing causing gastric and duodenal ulcers.

However the true significance of H-Pylori may not yet be fully understood – originally it was thought that the only good H-Pylori was a dead one.

Last month I attended a conference in Milan, Italy where Dr Allesandro Perra explained another activity of H-Pylori in lowering Groline which controls appetite.

A recent study in USA showed a connection between obesity in children and H-Pylori status (leptine increases pituitary satiety and groline increase appetite – so groline needs to be reduced after eating which is facilitated by H-Pylori).

To keep eco system balanced in nature we need keystone players. Could H-Pylori be a keystone player in weight control / obesity.

Dr Sean (J. B.) Dunphy, Cork Road Medical Clinic, Carrigaline.



Poetry Ireland Day
“What’s with W. B. Yeats, Leonard Cohen and Omar Khayyam.”
I have just returned from India with Nuala O’ Connells’s, Crosshaven based “Street Children” charity. While there I wrote a poetry review for a friends facebook page – I’m reposting today to mark Ireland’s Poetry Day.
While I am not a poet but a mere medic ( been Irish poetry is in blood.
I love the “live enhancing” poetry of the 11th century Persian poet, mathematician and astronomer, Omar Khayyan, who wrote enthusiastically of “Wine, Women & Song”. Many historians have argued through the ages that he must be an amalgamation of many poets as Islamic leaders would not have tolerated such “outrageous “ poetry –but one historian argued against – explaining that while the Islamic leaders of the day “never forgave their horses or their wives, but they always forgave their poets”
“Be Happy for this moment. This moment is your life”. Was his philosophy. 11 Thousand Books have been written about his poetry. One Hindu scholar collected 1300 versions of his “Rubayyet”.
He was working at the time of the first crusade – which sent shock waves through the Islamic world, rather like 9/11 did in the USA- shifting politics to far right fundamentalism. Whereas he was a rational thinker, a passionate defender of the golden age of the Islamic science, art, medicine and scholarship which was despised by the fundamentalists.
In his poems, he poked fun at the fundamentalists, whose concept of paradise was of virgins and fountains flowing with wine- if that was good enough for heaven why not here on earth!
Tradition has it when drinking a glass of wine you should spill a little in his honour.
I am also impressed by Carla Bruni’s idea of putting her favourite poems to music by simply repeating the last two lines of each stanza, to form a chorus. Carla was an Italian model who married Sarkozy while he was president of France and caused a sensation by releasing her album “No promises” which the tabloid press interpreted as proclaiming an “open marriage”
My interest in this album was triggered by the first two poems which were by the Irish Poet W B Yeats (Nobel Prizes 1923)”Your dancing days are done” and “before the world was made” (YouTube Carla Bruni – No Promises)
W B Yeats defined education as “not the filling of a pail, but rather the lighting of a fire “he is said to have written his best work between the age of 50 and 70 years. His influence was global during his life time and even to the present day. Another group called “the water boys “produce a lovely album exclusively of his poems set to music. Yeats focused on lost youth, virility etc which was echo by Leonard Cohen, a Canadian academic poet who Cork wits nicknamed Leonard Moan, I suspect spotted his fellow Jewish Bard, Bob Dylan putting words to music and so Cohen with his deep melancholic voice did likewise. To mark his passing Canadian singers created a great farewell concert. (You Tube “Tower of song”). Cohen was influences by the other poets also eg. His beautiful song “Alexander Leaving” was inspired by a poem describing Anthony and Cleopatra’s last night in Alexandria before facing their final battle.
Another of his poems that blew me away was “Joan of Arc” (on Jennifer Warnes album “Famous Blue Rain Coat”) where he manages a conversation between the flames and Joan of Arc as she is being burnt at the stake as a witch.
Could I enlist your readership in a project – to volunteer one hour per week or per month to schools that lack an English teacher. In Ireland we resisted and resented English imperialism for 800 years- but did benefit by acquiring the English language, which allowed the poorest in our country to gain work in the USA, Australia, etc. The Victorian boast that “the sun never sets on the British Empire” is explained Irish style “because god would not trust the Brits in the dark”
The teaching of English has been a passport out of poverty for many. I am familiar with one School in Bangaluru which could do with help! Founded by a wonderful lady and her father to educate street children- “S. A. Nermala and her father S. G. Anthony- started with five children and grown to 700 with only limited support of benefactors.
I.e. “Stella Mary School” K.S. Layout, Bangaluru-78, Phone 26 66 32 37.
But there are many other such school needing your help, e.g. Edith Wilkins Street Children School in Dargeeling which she established 30 years ago, students from UCC do internships there every year.

International Conference – Low Dose Medicine Dublin 2018

Sean Photo

Opening address by Dr. John B Dunphy (AKA DR. Sean Dunphy) to” The international conference on low dose medicine” Dublin 2018.

On behalf of the organizing committee, I welcome you to this ground breaking conference, which represent a major “paradigm shift” in therapeutics.

Most professions are slow to embrace new ideas, especially the medical establishment. You would think that the study of Physics, based on numbers, experiments and logic would be different-but NO- at a Nobel price ceremony the recipient commented that “physics advances funeral by funeral”!!

Paradigm shifts act like beacons in the world of finance, if you miss them, you miss the boat and you sink with the old paradigm. The world paradigm comes from the classical Greek “paradiegma”.


  1. Nokia of Finland started by manufacturing rubber boots and eventually developed and dominated the global mobile phones market, but failed to notice the significant arrival of Steve jobs smart phone, with devastating consequences.
  2. In the 70s Swiss watch makers dominated the global market, they had developed spectacular fly wheel, springs, water proofing etc and were light years ahead of opposition!!Their own research had developed the electric Quartz watch, which did not need any of the sophistication that the Swiss had worked tirelessly to create – they laughed at its simplicity – so sure were they that they put it on display in that year’s world congress in Geneva- Seiko of Japan took one look –one year later 10,000 watch maker were made redundant- the Swiss had controlled 98% of global revenue and 80% of all production – but had failed to spot a paradigm shift of their own making.
  3. Similarly in medicine!!!
  • When I was in the med school – there was an entire industry built around Gastric and Duodenal Ulcers- until two tenacious Ozy Docs got the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the significance of H-PYLORI.
  • Here in Dublin in the 50s a Dr. Patrick Collins discovered that a dilution of Procaine Hydrochloride applied to the skin could have an immune modulating effect in R.A. His granddaughters- both physicians still practice at their Lucan Clinic.
  • A paradigm shift is on the way in relation to “Gut Bacteria”, I was at the conference two days ago at UCC where the professor of the psychiatry Ted Dinan demonstrated the effect of gut bacteria on mood and anxiety and depression. He also noted that the weight of gut bacteria was equivalent to the brain and carries more than 50% of our total DNA information. Australian tv did an excellent series “Gut reaction” which you can watch on my web and Facebook pages.
  • Yesterday Israeli research announce that they have developed eye drops of Nano Particles that will dispense with the need for reading glasses- a paradigm shift in the making.
  • When I first used umbilical cord stem-cells 11 years ago it made international news- now stem- cells are used daily in reconstructive surgery, joint repair etc.
  • In psychology the publication of Roger Callahan’s “ five minute phobia cure” in 1982 evolved into TFT described in his book “Tapping the healer within”, which spawned an entire range of self-help therapies beneficial to patients worldwide, such as BSFF, TAT, EMDR and EFT, all of which are used in my clinic.
  • In physical medicine a new paradigm was set in train with the publication of Dr. Janet Travell’s textbook” The Trigger Point Manual” ( She was physician to president John F Kennedy).

Some years later Dr. Carl Ferrari of New York published his book on Dyslexia and developed an entire new protocol “ Neural Organisation Therapy”  For muscular an neuro logical problems including Dyslexia and Scoliosis which I have incorporated in my  medical practice over the past 30 years.

Hahnemann 260 years ago postulated a vital life force. This could soon be vindicated scientifically.

So today we have two exciting speakers to share their vast experiences with low dose- physiological regulating medicine (PRN).  From Milan Italy Dr. Alessandro Perra and From Belfast Dr. David Hefferon.

Civilians in Yemen are bearing the brunt of a ‘nasty’ civil war

The original article by Liz Dunphy for the Irish Examiner can be seen here.

Living in Yemen is like being trapped in a complex, faulty, Rubik’s Cube. Every day you face puzzles that may have no right answers. A move in any direction can lead to blindly exploding shells, airstrikes or stray bullets.Civilian populations in Yemen are surrounded by ever shifting frontlines in all directions, and are effectively cut off from vital supply routes by bombed infrastructure and a strict embargo.Andre Heller Pereche, head of mission in Yemen and overall director of programmes with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which is the only aid organisation still operating in Yemen, knows all about the costs of the conflict.“The vulnerable have had their lifelines completely cut by the conflict, the more robust are struggling to survive,” says Pereche. “A widespread, nasty civil war is permeating the entire country, affecting every individual in Yemen’s population of over 20m people.”

This is in a country that had some of the worst health and social statistics in the world prior to the conflict. Maternal mortality was high, literacy levels were low, and healthcare was seriously limited.

Over 10% of the Yemeni population were classed as moderately malnourished before the conflict. Since the conflict, the dissolution of municipal services, the collapse of private enterprise and a strict UN sanctioned embargo have severely intensified problems of malnutrition.
AndreHellerPerecheMSFAndre Heller Pereche, head of mission in Yemen and overall director of programmes with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

Outbreaks of water-borne diseases have increased as sanitation standards deteriorate. Dengue fever has already infected urban populations and diarrhoea is wreaking havoc in communities that are already struggling.

Rubbish collections are sporadic at best, and access to water and fuel are hugely problematic.

“Access to fuel is a major problem,” Pereche said. “Yemen has extremely low ground water levels per capita, so fuel is vital to pump water to populations that would otherwise struggle to access it.

“Also, for a largely rural-based population, fuel for vehicles is vital to allow people to access what limited healthcare or food supplies are available. Without fuel people are effectively trapped.”

Vital medical supplies are also limited, meaning people with chronic illnesses like renal failure, vascular disease and diabetes, cannot access medication. Even when insulin is available, the power needed to refrigerate it is often not, rendering the medication defunct. Diabetes is a common condition in Yemen.


“What’s happening in Yemen is like Syria in 2013,” says Pereche, who also has extensive experience with the Syrian conflict.

“It’s shocking that these things can happen again. The Middle East has been in such crisis that it seems like Yemen was one conflict too many, the world really hasn’t taken much note of it and the people there desperately require help. Everyone in the country is living like a displaced person.”

The UN-sanctioned embargo is nominally an arms embargo, however due to its wording it effectively bans all trade into Yemen. For a country that relies almost entirely on fuel and food imports, this has been disastrous for civilians.


“What is most vitally needed is for Aden’s ports to reopen fully, and for goods to be traded throughout the country again,” Pereche suggests.

“However the armed parties to the conflict need to work towards peace for that to happen, and currently their focus is on winning the war, rather than restoring basic services.

“I’ve worked for 10 years in conflict zones, and it’s rare to see a crisis affect every citizen the way it does currently in Yemen. At night the capital was completely dark; in the hospital all you could see was the sky being sporadically lit up with anti-aircraft fire, bombs and rockets.”

Approximately 50 international MSF workers are in Yemen, and 500-800 locals work with them. Since March, MSF teams have treated over 4,000 patients bringing over 105 tonnes of medical aid.


Pereche knows MSF only sees a fraction of those who suffer. “What worries me are all those who cannot access emergency healthcare and are just left to die.

“We do our best but we cannot replace the entire infrastructure for a State.” Prices also increase in war-time, as a cruel economics of scarcity kicks-in. “Prices have rocketed and access to cash is severely limited. Many international bank lines have closed their operations and money shops, which could often be seen on the streets, have closed.”

As with all wars, ‘collateral damage’, that sickening euphemism, is exacting its deadly toll. The Saudi-led coalition airstrikes often hit military targets, filled with weapons, which cause secondary explosions that send rockets and scud missiles careering chaotically into civilian areas, indiscriminately killing and maiming children and adults, and razing communities.

Anti-aircraft fire regularly misses its target and returns to the ground, decimating what lies beneath it, regardless of what side it lands on. The country has endured heavy aerial bombardment.

Yemen is home to countless Unesco world heritage sites that are being slowly destroyed; and vital infrastructure, including bridges, hospitals and schools have been flattened.

All this in a country once renowned for its beauty and ancient culture. Despite appalling pre-war human rights records and grinding poverty, Pereche remembers a beautiful country on his first visit in 2010 — highlands dotted with old-world stone villages, beautiful ancient medinas, the sparkling Arabian peninsula, and tribal societies that did not harbour secular divides.

Since the conflict, secular divides have spawned chasms within communities that once shared neighbourhoods, families and Mosques.

“The difference between then and now is like night and day,” he adds.

The Benzo Bends

This article explores the potential problems with long-term use of anti-anxiety medication and the importance of re-humanising the treatment of emotional distress. The original article, published in the Irish Examiner can be read here



By Liz Dunphy

Every morning Carmel wakes up from a fitful, toxic sleep in her Tipperary home. Her whole body vibrates like an internal jackhammer is belting her from inside — a loud sharp tinnitus floods her brain with distracting noise, her muscles forget how to function and her skin feels too tight for her body.

These are just some of the symptoms that have plagued Carmel for 19 long months since she stopped taking low daily doses of Valium which she was prescribed since August 2007.

Valium (or diazepam) is a benzodiazepine, a drug mostly used to treat anxiety disorders and muscle spasms. Benzodiazepines enhance the effect of the brain’s tranquilising neurotransmitter GABA which slows down over-activity to reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Many others could be experiencing Carmel’s painful and isolating withdrawal symptoms in Ireland today. The 2012 HSE PCRS report which lists the 100 medications most frequently prescribed to medical card patients ranked diazepam as the 26th most prescribed drug in Ireland, having dropped one place in Ireland’s drug popularity stakes from 25th place in 2011.

There is no official data on how frequently private prescriptions for benzodiazepines are issued, but Minister Kathleen Lynch says benzodiazepines are being excessively prescribed.

“We have to take a serious look at prescribing practices across the whole Department of Health, the problem is not just limited to psychiatric illnesses,” says Minister Lynch.

Ivor Browne is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at UCD, he was the Chief Psychiatrist of the Eastern Health Board and he is an eminent author on mental health.

Browne believes that benzodiazepines can be useful for relieving temporary anxiety but they should not be used on any regular or long-term basis because they are habit-forming.

“Anything that removes anxiety will be potentially addictive,” says Browne.

“Valium or its generic form Anxicalm can be effective, but all of these drugs are grossly overused, the person experiencing difficulties must work to overcome the traumas they have suffered with the support of a therapist.

“Psychotherapy, when it’s effectively undertaken, is the only real therapy. And Prozac and all other SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, used as antidepressants) are actually dangerous and in my opinion should never be used,” says Browne.

“Everything is disconnected in our society when everything in reality is interconnected, this needs to change to solve our societal problems.

“We need to recognise that the heart is our real centre, not the brain. All our emotional life is centred in the heart and there are more messages going from the heart to the brain than vice-versa. There’s an awful lot yet to be understood,” says Browne.

Prof David Healy is the Professor of Psychopharmacology at Bangor University in Wales, he is Irish and his innovative website  invites people to research and report the benefits and side effects experienced when using prescription drugs. People can record their experiences on the website which will generate a free RxISK report that they can bring to their own doctor.

The gathered accounts form a database that aims to make medicine safer for patients. Healy believes it can also help to equalise power between doctors and patients by giving patients an option to record their symptoms with other medical professionals for free. And Healy believes that equalising that power is vital to improving our healthcare system.

“In the 1960s drugs were viewed as poisons. The magic of medicine was that doctors could use poison to produce good. Industry has changed this model, turning pharmaceuticals into something to be used as a fertiliser, to be sprinkled widely, but these drugs are generally tested on people for four to six weeks, not for the months or years that people are actually prescribed them for.

“The human body can take poisons for a month — but not for indefinite, constant periods of time without doing damage,” says Healy.

Bridget Hayes, a mother of three is from Limerick, she was prescribed Xanax for 20 years to treat anxiety which began when she experienced thyroid problems.

“I feel like I’ve lost 20 years of my life. I was turned into an addict. I went to hospital as a day patient for years and no one said that I shouldn’t be on all these medications for so long, no one ever mentioned that they could be addictive either,” says Hayes.

“And they never offered counselling, even though they had a psychotherapist in that hospital. They just dish out tablets, and there are obviously reasons why people feel anxious or depressed which they need to talk about and understand. Psychotherapy should be the first port of call for these problems.”

Echoing concerns voiced by Prof Healy and Prof Browne about the additional dangers of SSRIs, Hayes noted that when an SSRI called Seroxat was added to her drug cocktail things got even worse.

“On Seroxat I lost all emotion, I couldn’t feel anything and I didn’t care about anyone, least of all myself. I had never had depression before but this anti-depressant made me feel suicidal. I started drinking heavily and I tried to kill myself a few times.”

Hayes realised that the medication was making her worse, and asked to stop.

“Dr Terry Lynch saved me. I read his book Beyond Prozac and I recognised myself in it. I started the Ashton method with Dr Lynch to come off Xanax, he taught me coping strategies and he’s a huge support,” says Hayes.

The Ashton method is a protocol for benzodiazepine withdrawal developed by Professor Heather Ashton, an Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psycho-pharmacology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, in which you slowly reduce your dose while managing your symptoms. The Ashton Manual, which includes tapering schedules, is available on

“Once I came off Xanax and only took small doses of Valium I suddenly regained feelings and memories,” says Hayes. “My parents died a few years ago but I cried over their deaths for the first time recently, I had been so numbed by medication that I couldn’t feel any emotions.”

Hayes still has good and bad days but she has learned coping mechanisms, like deep breathing to deal with anxiety without medication.

“I feel cheated from so many years of my life. I have to go through hell to get off the medication and the people who put me on it can’t help me. The receptors in my brain are still damaged from the medication and it will take time to heal,” says Hayes.

“And it’s such a contradiction, these drugs are known to cause depression and anxiety as a side effect, yet people are prescribed them to treat those very symptoms.”

Dr Terry Lynch who helped Hayes with her benzodiazepine withdrawal, practiced as a GP before noticing problems in how medicine addressed mental health issues. He writes books on the topic (including a best seller Beyond Prozac, and a new book Depression Delusion, Vol.

One: The Myth of the Brain Chemical Imbalance, published this month). He now works full time helping people to improve their mental health through a combination of emotional, psychological and physical interventions, including medication.

“The existence of brain chemical imbalances, which psychiatric drugs are supposedly designed to correct, has never been scientifically verified. It’s a widely promoted and accepted myth. The pain and distress are very real but the chemical imbalance is not.

“These problems need to be addressed from a broader perspective, one that includes the emotional and psychological aspects of the person as well as the physical.

“The starting point should be seeking to make sense of people’s experiences and emotions at a human level,” says Lynch.

“Generally the medical profession now accept that benzodiazepines can be addictive and can cause difficult withdrawal symptoms but that awareness came belatedly.”

Lynch is concerned that a similarly delayed recognition of the potential problems with SSRIs may be currently unfolding. “As a society, we need to reconsider whether a biologically-dominated model for emotional and mental health and wellbeing is best for people or not,” he says.

Unexpected journeys can begin in the most mundane of ways. Mary*, a young mother from Tipperary fell off a slide while on holiday when holding her four-year-old on her lap.

“I got burning nerve pains after the fall, I thought that I had a degenerative neurological disease and I got quite depressed. My GP gave me an anti-depressant called sertraline (a SSRI), Xanax (alprazolam — a benzodiazepine) and the sleeping pill zopiclone ( a Z drug that works in a very similar way to benzodiazepines).

“Four weeks later I experienced severe, deep twitching in my legs and I still had burning nerve pains. I went to see a consultant who prescribed amitriptyline which worked well and ended my nerve pain, but afterwards I was hospitalised for tachycardia, which was actually quite lucky because the hospital diagnosed drug-induced arrhythmia, so I knew then that the medication was causing problems.”

Mary* only took the medication for six weeks but she has battled withdrawal symptoms for 13 months. “I asked to come off the medication and I didn’t crave it at all but my body and brain just couldn’t adapt quickly to functioning without them. But my cousin took them for three to four months and stopped taking them with no problems, so we all react differently,” says Mary*.

“I found that my symptoms matched the benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms others reported on the internet. I learned that certain substances, like sugar and alcohol really aggravated my symptoms because they excite the nervous system, and MSG is a neurotoxin anyway so this worsens my symptoms too.

“Once I had information I felt more in control of what was happening. But Baylissa Frederick really saved me, she set up great online resources and a counselling website Without Baylissa’s help and support I’d either be on a very hard, painful, lonely road or else I’d be dead.”

Baylissa Frederick, the woman that Mary* attributes with helping her to cope with withdrawal, was first prescribed the benzodiazepine clonazepam in early 1998 for dystonia, a movement disorder.

“I didn’t know the drug was addictive until I started feeling unwell, I exhausted diagnostic tests and had multiple emergency visits to casualty, before I found the Ashton Manual online.”

“Of all the people I’ve supported, 90% found out the drug was the cause of their problems via the internet and asked their doctors to come off it. They print off tapering schedules from the Ashton Manual to bring to their doctors.

“For those on the drug who plan to stop taking it, never stop abruptly. Speak to your doctor and find a tapering schedule that is safe and not rushed.”

Frederick believes that normal emotions such as grief and stress are now pathologised.

Instead of allowing people to process these feelings and deal with them through talking and human support, people visit their GPs and end up with a prescription to a drug that could potentially cause them further problems.

“Many of the people I support were put on benzos, z-drugs and antidepressants for normal reactions to grief. At first I was shocked at how many had become dependent on these meds because of a bereavement,” says Frederick.

“Benzodiazepines basically put a chemical cushion between you and reality,” says Dr John Dunphy, a GP in Carrigaline, Co Cork, “that cushion can be very useful if you hit a rocky patch that is too uncomfortable to bear temporarily — but the problem is that that cushion can also smother you if it’s not closely monitored.”