Professor Heather Ashton, the true Angel of the North, to be honoured by the UK Government

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Professor Heather Ashton, the true Angel of the North, to be honoured by the UK Government

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Chrystal Heather Ashton DM, FRCP is Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychopharmacology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and has become nothing less than a true heroine to the many thousands of people impacted by the over prescription of benzodiazepine drugs. She spent a large part of her life helping and supporting people who found themselves involuntarily dependent on these medicines after taking them only as prescribed. She has been described as "One very special lady and doctor extraordinaire" (ref.1). She is the true Angel of the North.

Crystal Heather Ashton worked at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne as researcher and clinician from 1965, firstly in the Department of Pharmacology and latterly in the Department of Psychiatry. She became a Professor after working as a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader. Before this she graduated from the University of Oxford and obtained a First-Class Honours Degree in Physiology in 1951. She qualified as a Doctor in 1954 and gained a postgraduate Doctor of Medicine in 1956. She qualified as Member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1958 and was elected Fellow of the same College in 1975. She also became National Health Service Consultant in Clinical Psychopharmacology in 1975 and National Health Service Consultant in Psychiatry in 1994.

Her research in Newcastle centred on the effects of psychotropic drugs (nicotine, cannabis, benzodiazepines, antidepressants and others) on the brain and behaviour in man. Her main clinical work was in running a benzodiazepine withdrawal clinic for 12 years from 1982-1994.

It was this latter piece of work that earned her the respect and support of thousands of benzodiazepine afflicted sufferers worldwide. Her tireless and compassionate approach helped people debilitated by the brutal, life afflicting withdrawal symptoms that arise when stopping these medications. Many had their lives destroyed by these drugs. The many side effects can be painful and agonising and can last for months or years and in some, become permanent. Governments, Health Agencies, drug companies and doctors have often chosen to ignore these impacts. Prof Ashton described it is as “a medical disaster, a pandemic, all over the world, caused by doctors not knowing what they are prescribing, pushing by the drug companies and not enough research” (ref. 2)

Prof Ashton’s manual (ref. 3) has become the global go to resource for anyone who wants to stop taking benzodiazepines. The manual is now available on line as a free resource for all to access and remains a seminal piece of work, the principles of which have been adapted to help many thousands more to wean themselves off all manner of psychiatric medications. It has been translated into at least twelve different languages and referred to by millions. In the UK, the manual is referred to in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines for Benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Many people from all over the world have used the Ashton Manual to taper off their benzodiazepine medication. Their gratitude to Prof Ashton is well documented. She kept the many emails and letters expressing thanks to her. Its is clear she gained a great deal of gratification from what she achieved.

Prof Ashton was also involved with the North East Council for Addictions (NECA) of which she was former Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee. She gave advice on benzodiazepine problems to counsellors and was patron of the Bristol & District Tranquilliser Project. She was generic expert in the UK benzodiazepine litigation in the 1980s and has been involved with the UK organisation Victims of Tranquillisers (VOT). She has submitted evidence about benzodiazepines to the House of Commons Health Select Committee.

Prof Ashton has published approximately 250 papers in professional journals, books and chapters in books on psychotropic drugs of which over 50 concern benzodiazepines (ref 4). She has given evidence to various Government committees on tobacco smoking, cannabis and benzodiazepines and has given invited lectures on benzodiazepines in the UK, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland and other countries.

Her activities inspired many to help others with benzodiazepine withdrawal issues, including a long-term advocate in the UK, Barry Haslam (ref 5). Barry was chair of the Oldham Tranx (ref. 6) support group, having been seriously afflicted by benzodiazepine withdrawal himself.  Ten years of his life memories were wiped out by the drugs. He gave twenty years of his life to help support others in similar predicaments with regular support from Prof Ashton.

The signatories to this petition want to see Prof Ashton honoured for her selfless work supporting those effected by benzodiazepines and other addictive substances and drugs. A direct request to Her Majesty’s Government to honour Prof Ashton is in progress. This petition has been started by a small group of dedicated activists and supporters of campaigns to raise awareness of the affects of over prescription of all psychiatric drugs. Their aims are to ensure health organisations such as Public Health England revise their guidelines for the use of these drugs to medicine and psychiatry to avoid further patient suffering in the future.

References and further information about Professor Ashton:







The links below are to benzodiazepine withdrawal stories, including one from a doctor:

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