Original article no longer available
May 28 2004
By Megan Bolam, The Journal
A Tyneside father is facing an ongoing battle for tighter controls on prescription drugs, claiming an addiction to anti-depressants took his son’s life.
Simon Hervey was first prescribed anti-depressants at the age of 14 to combat years of torment at the hands of school bullies for being gay.
For the next 14 years he fought against severe mood swings – several times attempting to take his own life – until his sudden death in April 1999, aged 28.
At the inquest, the pathologist confirmed the cause of death was consumption of a cocktail of medication prescribed by the family doctors. The verdict was left open after Newcastle coroner David Mitford said he was not convinced that Simon had intentionally taken his own life.
Four years after his son’s death, father Adrian Hervey (pictured above), 62, is still angry at the way the health services failed his son and is calling for tighter controls on the prescription of anti-depressants.
He said: “Simon was depressed and no longer had control of his life. But that wasn’t suicide. It was the drugs that killed him in the end.
“No-one ever tried to get to the root of my son’s depression.
“Simon was given repeat prescription after repeat prescription. Never able to shake off the low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy forced upon him by the bullies, he kept seeking help from the doctors who prescribed him more and more drugs.”
Adrian is just one of more than 20 people who have contacted The Journal to speak of their experiences with anti-depressants after an investigation revealed doctors are dishing out more than 800,000 prescriptions a year in the region.
In Northumberland and Tyne and Wear drugs counters dispensed 565, 106 prescriptions in the last 12 months – a rise of almost 200,000 in three years.
The picture is mirrored across the region, with Durham and Teesside also showing increases.
The shocking figures follow the tragic case of doting father Peter Hearn, 51, who hanged himself – just eight days after starting anti-depressants.
His wife Anne convinced a coroner to hold a second inquest into her husband’s death and overturn his initial verdict of suicide to one of “death by hanging”. She claims Peter would never have taken his own life had the drugs not triggered suicidal thoughts, ultimately leading to his death.
Adrian said his son was a happy and popular boy until the age of 11 when he told him he was gay.
Growing up in Morpeth, Northumberland, where his father ran The Plough, in Mitford, Simon developed a passion for writing, painting and music.
But his troubles began when he started secondary school and he was bullied and harassed by his classmates because of his sexuality.
At the age of 14, Simon was referred to his doctor by the education psychologist where he was prescribed anti-depressants.
He soon become dependent on the drugs and although his condition deteriorated over the years, he was continually prescribed more anti-depressants. After 14 years of suffering, addiction and pain, Adrian discovered his son’s lifeless body in his flat. He had overdosed on a lethal cocktail of drugs.
A post mortem found two types of anti-depressants in his system along with medication for epilepsy and a drug normally prescribed for the elderly or alcoholics.
Adrian added: “The doctors are to blame. There has to be a dealer in any drug and in this case it was the GPs. I wish I knew then what I know now. In a child where the brain is still developing, the first side effects of anti-depressants is memory loss. They also cause irrational behaviour, anger and violence and can trigger extreme mood swings.
“But Simon was given repeat prescription after repeat prescription. I want to see greater control over prescriptions. I want GPs to be answerable.”
A Tyneside mother-of-one claims anti-depressants and prescription drugs almost claimed her life.
Julie was prescribed anti-depressants after experiencing the trauma of a marriage breakdown four years ago.
The medication lifted her spirits immediately and says she become “high on life”, throwing all of her new-found energy into decorating her home.
After six weeks on the anti-depressant Julie decided to give up smoking and her doctor prescribed her additional medication to help her quit the habit. But from the moment she began taking the medication, Julie went into a deep state of depression and days later she attempted suicide.
She said: “From the moment I started taking the two together I become very depressed and one night I come home, felt very alone and wanted to end it all. I saw a psychologist at the hospital and they said it was the combination of the drugs that was wrong.
“I’m not a depressive person. I suppose when my marriage broke down I was depressed but on a daily basis things don’t get me down that easily. I think that in some cases anti-depressants can be a good thing but I think doctors give them out too easily.”
When Jane’s husband walked out on her 10 years ago, leaving her with two children to care for, it turned her world upside down.
The 27-year-old, from Benton, had not worked for six years and soon found herself struggling to cope with a mountain of financial and emotional pressure.
Jane turned to her GP for help and was prescribed an anti-depressant. Three days after starting on the medication, she says she was unable to sleep and began experiencing blackouts.
She relayed her concerns to her doctor but was assured she would feel better after taking the medication for one month.
Four days later she found herself in a hospital emergency room after trying to take her own life by overdosing on painkillers and anti-depressants.
She said: “I was always a happy and positive person but then when my husband walked out I got stressed out and I suppose I was depressed – although I’m still not sure what depression really is.
“But once I started taking the anti-depressants, I become a different person. I become aggressive and I still feel terrible about what that must have done to my children.”
Parents Tom and Janice claim an addiction to anti-depressants led their son to take his own life more than two years ago.
The couple, from Blyth, Northumberland, said their son Rhys was a bright and bubbly boy who had a zest for life throughout his school years.
He had an ambition to become an engineer and went on to study at university. But two years into his degree, Tom says he noticed a change in his son’s personality.
Rhys had become agitated and withdrew from his family, spending a lot of time taking long walks along the beach.
At first Tom and Janice feared their son was taking illicit drugs until they found a box of anti-depressants by his bedside.
Rhys, 25, told his father he was prescribed the drugs by his GP after he complained of stress with his university workload and feeling down in the dumps. One month later, the couple returned from a weekend away to find their son had committed suicide by hanging himself in his bedroom.
Tom said: “I thought anti-depressants would help him but in the end I think they took his life. His whole personality changed so quickly and we had no chance to stop it.”