Courtesy of Holly Hardman

Xanax, Klonopin, Valium — these all belong to a type of medication called benzodiazepines, medications that are frequently shown in media in terms of addiction or as pills that relax nerves. 

Film producer Holly Hardman reveals a different narrative with her new documentary, “As Prescribed,” which shows the harm benzodiazepines cause with lasting effects even after withdrawal. The film was played at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival on Oct. 15. 

“Too often, the easy thing for a prescriber to do is to offer a pill,” Hardman said. “And I have just seen too many victims, too many ruined lives. And I’d like to do something to change that.”

The film showcases several different lived experiences of people around the U.S. and their struggles with benzodiazepines. When withdrawing from the medications, many experienced a “mystery illness” that was caused by the benzodiazepines themselves.

Hardman decided to make the film after her own struggles with benzodiazepines. She is a survivor of a misprescribed benzodiazepine, Klonopin, that she was offered for her chronic fatigue syndrome.

“This style of filmmaking is always driven by an author who is deeply committed to the subject,” director of photography Scott Shelley said. “And Holly is very much that person. Our people get really committed and really dedicated to this stuff. It becomes a crusade, and certainly a campaign. People don’t get rich and famous during this stuff. People do this stuff because they deeply care, and they’re really trying to do some good in the world.”

Production filmed across the U.S. from Utah, California, Colorado and Massachusetts. Additionally, they used self-recorded videos from the United Kingdom, Denmark and Japan. 

Filming started in August 2014 and the last shot that was used was from fall 2021, with text that gives an update up to May 2022.

“There’s no Netflix budget for stuff like this,” Shelley said. “The overall authority, the overarching story and the situation has never really been shown much. An awful lot of people hear anecdotal stories or have experienced this themselves, but they don’t really have an idea of how big a problem it is.”

Hardman wants to reach a student audience to show the harm they cause college students as well as encourage future academics to research the side effects and harms of benzodiazepines.

“Young people are still being prescribed these medications,” Hardman said. “The pressure to do well in college is intense, and it creates a lot of anxiety and depression. I’d also love in the university setting for more research to be done. It’s not just about protecting the students, we need more members of academia to get involved in research and find this as a vibrant field of study and exploration.”

According to the Food and Drug Administration, benzodiazepines are a commonly prescribed medicine, and in 2019, an estimated 92 million benzodiazepines were prescribed. The most common were Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan.

In September 2020, the FDA updated its black box warning, the highest safety risk warning for medications, for benzodiazepines to include information about “risks of abuse, misuse, addiction, physical dependence and withdrawal reactions.”

“The problem is most people don’t know about [the harms of benzodiazepines],” Bernie Silvernail, founder of the Alliance for Benzodiazepine Best Practices, told the News. “It was not taught in medical schools. …We’re looking at 20 years for the practice to shift. And frankly, we’re just not willing to wait for that.”

“As Prescribed” played at Bow Tie Cinemas Saturday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m.

Tristan Hernandez covers student policy and affairs for the News. He is also a copy editor and previously reported on student life. Originally from Austin, Texas, he is a sophomore in Pierson College majoring in political science.