“Without drugs I’d die” by Rod Allen

“Without drugs I’d die” by Rod Allen

Posted On: March 29, 2011
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Rod Allen is a former television producer who was head of journalism at City
University, London. Here he writes about the darker side to the prescribed drugs that are helping to keep him alive.

I don’t use recreational drugs. I haven’t smoked a cigarette since 1989. If I have
a glass of beer more than once a month I’d be surprised. I don’t care for wine
or spirits. But I’m completely dependent on taking five injections and six tablets
every day; without them, I would die in reasonably short order. Does that me
any more or less of an addict than the heroin user or the recreational cannabis

I have diabetes and a tendency towards hypertension, or elevated blood
pressure. For the diabetes I inject 28 units of Humulog, a fast-acting
insulin, before every meal, as well as 30 units each morning and 30 at bedtime
of Lantus, a long-acting insulin.

The injections used to be administered with a syringe but are now provided
in pre-filled insulin pens, which makes them cosmetically a little easier to take
in public. I also test my blood by pricking my finger and using a blood glucose
meter up to three times a day.

I also take 50mg daily of amitryptilline, a Prozac-like anti-depressive, which
has recently been found to be effective in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy,
the hard-to-explain combination of numbness and extra sensitivity in the feet
and legs which is one of the complications of diabetes. (Amitryptilline is used in
far larger quantities as an anti-depressive, though I suspect my generally calm
temperament is helped by the small amount that I take). Effective medication for
neuropathy is notoriously difficult to establish, and debate continues between
me and my doctors about which drugs will work and which won’t.

For my blood pressure, I take the cocktail of anti-hypertensive drugs which is
commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, including the miraculous statin
which stabilises my cholestorol levels (“ought to put it in the drinking water”
said one doctor), an ACE inhibitor, a beta blocker and low-dose aspirin. Generally
speaking, this combination works, and my blood pressure is pretty much under

But none of these drugs come without a price. Insulin injections cause hard
patches of tissue to develop beneath my skin, and as time goes by my insulin
tolerance levels go up, requiring me to increase my doses. And the hypertensives
sometimes work too well, reducing my blood pressure, especially when I stand
up, to a level at which I feel dizzy, or, worse, black out completely. All my doctor
can say to that is ‘don’t go too close to the platform edge’. So I know about the
harmful effects of drugs – it’s just that however harmful they are I need to keep
taking them. Why am I thought of as different from a heroin user or a cannabis
smoker? (And yes, more than one doctor has counseled a trip to Amsterdam to
help me with the pains in my legs).

A couple of years ago, I was prescribed some seriously harmful drugs. I
developed stage 4 non-Hodgkins lymphoma – a common form of cancer – and I
underwent chemotherapy in a (successful) attempt to deal with it. The chemo I
had went under the charming name of R-CHOP, and it consisted of infusing some industrial-strength poisons into my bloodstream over the course of six three-
weekly sessions. The idea is that the poisons do their work with the cancerous
cells; but of course the cancerous cells aren’t the only things they work on. I
lost all my bodily hair; I developed a disabling, crushing cough; my handwriting
went to hell (my haemotologist disclaimed responsibility for that); and, since
the chemo cells take up residence in the liver, I felt distinctly liverish for about
18 months. They don’t tell you about the effects of chemotherapy before you
begin it; and I don’t blame them. Lots of people would probably go without
chemotherapy and take their chances with cancer, as is suggested by the figures
for people whose cancer returns. Mine is in complete remission, but I’d think
very carefully about what I’d do if it came back. R-CHOP is demonstrably more
harmful than ecstasy, cocaine or cannabis – yet we ignore the good that these
drugs can do, and criminalise them. And I ought to add that the best experience I
had in hospital, after surgery for a lymphatic obstruction in my bowel, was
the push button they provided which, when pressed, delivered a delicious little
intravenous shot of morphine – on demand.