Prescription-Drug Abuse

June 11, 1982

Report Outline
Extent of the Problem
From Drug Maker to Taker
Education and Treatment
Special Focus

Extent of the Problem

Valium Use Down, but Still Worrisome

The recently released movie “I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can,” starring actress Jill Clayburgh, is based on a book by the same name. Both the book and the movie are about a woman who overcomes an addiction to the tranquilizer Valium. Although the film was not favorably reviewed by most critics, it did help focus attention on Valium's addictive properties (see p. 436). It also worried Hoffman-La Roche, the pharmaceutical company in Nutley, N.J., that makes the drug. “While [the movie] portrays blatant misuse of Valium, the viewing public might infer that this could occur with normal use of the drug,” said company spokesman Kenneth Berkowitz.

Hoffman-La Roche decided against legal action, but did send letters to physicians warning them that the movie might turn some patients against Valium. Prescription sales of Valium, once the most prescribed drug in America, were already down, falling 45 percent from 1975 to 1980 (see box, p. 433). Experts believe the recent drop in all tranquilizer sales is largely the result of increased awareness of their side effects and the dangers of addiction (see box, p. 434) and the growing use of alternative relaxation techniques, such as physical exercise. The problem of prescription drug abuse has received a lot of attention in the press since Betty Ford, wife of the former president, publicly acknowledged her past dependence on drugs and alcohol in 1978.

Although prescription-drug abuse may not be as prevalent as it was in the mid-1970s, many experts believe that these drugs are still being misused by a significant portion of the population and pose serious dangers. According to the authors of Stopping Valium, published this year by the Public Citizen Health Research Group, a health-activist organization in Washington, D.C., more than 10 million Americans are taking Valium or similar tranquilizers and 1.5 million have taken the drugs long enough to be in danger of addiction.

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