I NOTE with interest your series of articles on the nation's reliance on over-the-counter drugs (A Bitter Pill, The Herald, October 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6). I worked for50 years as a youth worker with a special interest in young people’s health including their drug use. I ran 4,000 health workshops for young people on drugs, alcohol, illicit drugs, smoking and over-the-counter medicines, I heard many reports of the consequences. So, I wrote a book for parents, Fags booze drugs + Children, to educate them to the dangers of all drug use by children. I came across thousands of examples of young people either self-medicating to cope with problems in their life, or being prescribed medication like Ritalin to control their behaviour.

In my discussions with hundreds of young people, they said stress, bullying, family conflict, bereavements and chronic problems of health, led them into self-medicating to cope with what was going on in their lives. And smoking in children used to be common as they believed that nicotine calmed them down. They were wrong – nicotine is a stimulant; it makes you high.

Many children use alcohol, believing it will give them confidence, reduce anxiety or depression, improve their sex lives or help them forget their troubles and sleep better. Alcohol is a depressant drug. Hundreds of thousands of Scots have found to their cost that drinking alcohol when you are depressed only makes it worse.

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The world of illicit drugs is another route into self-medication for children. In the 1960’s only about 10 illicit drugs were readily available to young people. We know lots about cannabis, Acid, ecstasy, speed, heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine and magic mushrooms, so it was possible to l provide some preventative education to our children.

The number of illicit drugs is now more than 2,000 and not even the police or drugs workers know much about any of them. So we cannot even give accurate advice to the public about these drugs.

Even if our children never touch any of the above mentioned drugs, they are still prey to harm from over-prescribing by doctors, who only have 10-minute slots in which to diagnose and offer help for any patient. The easy solution is to write a prescription and if you are lucky, refer the child to a psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health or addiction clinics. Those waiting lists that can be as long as 18 months, so they continue to self-medicate.

A few years ago the Government commissioned a report on the safety and effectiveness of over-the-counter drugs for children. That report said that virtually none of the common remedies for children, were effective and the pharmacies should remove them from their shelves. These remedies did not find their way into the bin after heavy pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, but the report did. If we are looking to governments to do anything to ensure that our children are protected from harm from any sort of drugs, we will wait along time.

Max Cruickshank,

13 Iona Ridge, Hamilton.

DR Philip Gaskell’s letter (October 5) perfectly illustrates how far removed many GPs are from the realities of prescribed drug dependence. I’m hoping that you welcome and timely campaign on this issue (A Bitter Pill, October 2, 3, 4, 5,& 6) will act as a wake-up call and educate the general public and the medical profession about the dangers of psychotropic medication.

In my view the gabapentinoids, gabapentin and pregabalin, deserve their name as the “new diazepam”, they have many adverse side-effects, have a high risk for dependence and should rightly be classified as controlled drugs. Prescriptions for pregabalin alone rose by 350 per cent in England in the five years to 2012 and I believe Scotland shares this trend. I was myself prescribed pregabalin not for neuropathic pain but as a result of coming off an antidepressant and suffering withdrawal symptoms that were most definitely not transient. I want to clarify that people who are prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) don’t resort to addiction-seeking behaviour and don’t have cravings to satisfy, but while antidepressants are not addictive in this sense they do give rise to physiological dependence and withdrawal symptoms can be both persistent and deeply unpleasant. It should be more widely known that even with a gradual taper they can be very hard to stop. Coming off Venlafaxine in 2011 after more than 30 years of taking antidepressants of one kind or another has been one of the hardest experiences of my life. My doctors wrongly attributed my withdrawal symptoms as evidence of relapse and I know from talking to others this is far from being unique. Too often as it was in my case more drugs are thrown at the problem and more damage done. I have been free of psychotropic drugs since 2013 but as of today I’m still suffering ill health as a result of prescribed drug dependence. I cannot see how this can be a satisfactory state of affairs.

I worry that GPs, or pharmacists for that matter, aren’t very well educated about how best to get their patients off psychotropic drugs. How many, for example, are acquainted with the Heather Ashton protocol for coming off benzodiazepines or the invaluable advice of the American psychiatrist Dr Peter Breggin on how to taper off antidepressants safely?

I have undergone brutal years of withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants and benzodiazepines. I really cannot understand why we continue to ignore the dangers of these drugs and why the funds cannot be found to help people like me.

Alyne Duthie (Mrs)

Balnellan Road, Braemar.

DR John Crichton, chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland), expresses his concerns about the issues raised about psychiatric drugs (“Demonising medical treatment risks stigmatising mental disorders”, The Herald, October 6). He fears that patients with mental illness might be stigmatised. Those of us who are vociferously asking serious questions about psychiatry and psychiatric drugs have no wish for this to happen. After all, most of us campaigners have experienced mental illness ourselves and have consumed these drugs, often to our own detriment. We do, however, question the scientific basis of psychiatry, the subjective nature of psychiatric diagnoses and the many harms caused by psychiatric drugs.

We are also deeply concerned about the close ties with the pharmaceutical industry, whose main purpose is to maximise profits. These matters are extensively discussed in the medical journals.

At the moment those harmed by the drugs are ignored, sidelined, stigmatised, left in despair, without help or labelled as "mentally ill". This is the sort of stigma we would also urgently wish to avoid. We posed many questions to the college recently via Twitter. We received few answers. A request for a face to face meeting was neither acknowledged nor responded to.

Having consumed a benzodiazepine for myoclonic epilepsy and a whole host of antidepressants as advised by many psychiatrists over a period of 40 years, I do expect to have a conversation with a doctor about the resulting damage to my brain and body and when this is clearly not on offer, I have to question whether this is a lack of honesty or a lack of knowledge?

Patients deserve to be given accurate, unbiased information about the drugs they are advised to consume. I cannot remember ever having been given such information in the past 40 years. I was so disabled by those drugs, I could barely function and had no energy to research the drugs for myself. The sedative effects also mean that clarity of thought is not possible.

Fiona French,

Hilton Heights, Aberdeen.