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Veteran prescribed benzodiazepines for PTSD wants royal commission to probe drug addiction

David Hill says the drugs he was prescribed for his PTSD turned him into a "zombie". (ABC News: Chris Le Page)

David Hill is trying anything and everything, even illegal cannabis oil, to tackle post-traumatic stress disorder, a result of two tours of Afghanistan as an Australian solider. Key points:

  • Mr Hill became addicted to the benzodiazepines he was prescribed to treat his PTSD

  • He wants the veteran suicide royal commission to examine their use, a move backed by experts

  • Independent senator Jacqui Lambie wants the inquiry to look at alternative treatments, including cannabis, for returned soldiers

His efforts include equine therapy, but no longer involve benzodiazepines, a mild form of tranquilisers used to help sleep and calm anxiety.

He said the group of drugs known as 'benzos' made his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) harder, as he became dependent on the medication.

He was prescribed the medication but at his worst he was taking 50 pills a day.

"They were good for keeping me regulated and keeping me numb," Mr Hill said.

"But long term, I felt it destroyed my short-term memory, it turned me into a zombie."If you or anyone you know needs help:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14

  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800

  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978

  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467

  • Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636

  • Headspace on 1800 650 890

  • ReachOut at

  • Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) on 1800 008 774

During his period of care at the Austin Repatriation Hospital, Mr Hill, now 31, said his dependency on benzodiazepines became worse.

The drug helped wean Mr Hill off benzos and begin a more meaningful period of treatment for PTSD.

His father risked everything to illegally obtain the cannabis oil.

Experts say benzos can be helpful in short periods for treating symptoms of anxiety and insomnia, which is common in PTSD, but in the medium to long term it prohibits treatment of PTSD through psychotherapy and other techniques.

Mr Hill believes other veterans with PTSD could benefit from access to subsidised medicinal cannabis. Supplied: David Hill

The drugs can be addictive.

"You may as well just be a walking ghost…you become numb to just about every emotion, including joy. So, there's no real positive at the end of it,'' Mr Hill said.

"You just can't focus on the problem. You can't identify what the problems are. So it's just masking the seriousness and all the symptoms that come along with it."

Jacqui Lambie leads calls for alternative treatments

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is yet to release its terms of reference, but veterans including Mr Hill hope it includes an examination of the use of benzodiazepines and other medications.

There has been concern that too many veterans were being dosed up with benzos, rather than exploring other treatments.

Now weaned off the addictive drugs, Mr Hill wants the royal commission to examine their use. ABC News: Chris Le Page

One of the loudest voices for veterans, Independent Senator Jacquie Lambie, supports a full investigation of treatments offered to returned Australian soldiers.

"This will be one of the biggest things that needs to go through that royal commission on exactly what pharmaceuticals we are shoving down veterans' throats,'' Senator Lambie said.

Jacqui Lambie has been a vocal advocate of a royal commission into veteran suicide. AAP Image: Mick Tsikas, File Photo

Senator Lambie said the government and the commission must look at alternative treatments, including medicinal cannabis, for veterans.

"There are other therapies out there without putting these veterans straight on benzos and mixing them with every drug that they put through their system," she said.

No drug a 'silver bullet' for PTSD

The call has the backing of experts, including psychiatrist and veteran mental health advocate Andrew Khoo.

Dr Khoo said the drugs could play a role in the short term for insomnia and other drug withdrawals.

"[Benzodiazepines] should only ever be used in the short term and have no place in the medium- or long-term treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder," Dr Khoo said.

"If they were being used in that latter case then that is a concern."

He said the drugs had very limited efficacy in treating the core symptoms of PTSD.

Anti-depressant medications are the best drug treatment for the symptoms but psychotherapy is the key to tackling PTSD, Dr Khoo says.

"We just don't have a pharmacological silver bullet for PTSD at this time,'' he said.

Mr Hill said there was not enough education for discharged veterans about what assistance was available, or a willingness to talk about issues confronting those that returned from war.

"[The royal commission] has got to look at the way that they inform the soldiers, and they need to basically investigate it from start to finish,'' he said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said the terms of reference were still being considered and public input was being sought.

"It is expected that it will examine all aspects of service in the ADF and the experience of those transitioning; the availability and quality of health and support services; pre-service and post-service issues for members and veterans; members' and veterans' social and family contexts, such as family breakdown, as well as housing and employment issues for members and veterans,'' a spokeswoman said.

Defence support services:

  • The Defence all-hours Support Line is a confidential telephone and online service for ADF members and their families 1800 628 036

  • Open Arms provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling and support for current and former ADF members and their families 1800 011 046

  • Soldier On is a national support services provider for Defence personnel, contemporary veterans, and their families. Contact during office hours 1300 620 380


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