Dr. Heather Ashton, 90, Dies; Helped People Quit Anxiety Drugs

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“Basically, we now recommend using the same kind of interventions that are used to address the opioid crisis to address the benzodiazepine overprescribing crisis,” Dr. Lembke said. “Dr. Ashton was the vanguard of that change.”

Chrystal Heather Champion was born on July 11, 1929, in Dehradun, India, to Harry Champion, a forester, and Chrystal (Parsons) Champion. Her parents sent her to boarding school in England when she was 6, but in 1939, during World War II, she and her older brother, Jim, were among millions of children evacuated from Britain to live with relatives and foster families overseas.

The two ended up in the care of John and Obi Marshall in West Chester, Pa. They became a second family, and Heather remained in close touch with the Marshalls for the rest of her life.

She returned to England in 1945 and went on to study medicine at the University of Oxford. After graduating, she married John Ashton and moved to London, where he worked as an economist for the Ministry of Agriculture. They moved to Newcastle in 1964, when John was appointed a professor of agricultural economics at Newcastle University. Dr. Ashton was hired by the university’s department of pharmacological sciences, where she developed her expertise in psychoactive drugs.

In addition to benzodiazepines, she conducted several studies on the effects of nicotine and cannabis in the brain, and was among the earliest researchers to use electroencephalography to understand changes in neural activity.

She took great pains to avoid any conflict of interest that might undermine people’s trust in her work or profession. She scrupulously declined support of any kind from the pharmaceutical industry.

Even after she retired, Dr. Ashton continued publishing original research, seeing patients and teaching medical students. She also remained active on the executive committee of the North East Council on Addiction and would answer requests for advice on benzodiazepine dependence that poured in from around the world.


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