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psychological pill-er Doctor turned-author focuses on fake medication in his latest novel


Dr James Morrow has written a new novel on fake pills

Dr James Morrow has written a new novel on fake pills

Dr James Morrow has written a new novel on fake pills

A Belfast doctor who flagged up the birth defects caused by an epilepsy drug has taken on fake pills in his latest novel.

James Morrow, a former consultant neurologist, led the team which exposed the side effects in pregnant women of a common treatment for epilepsy.

But when he was forced to retire after developing the condition himself, he turned to writing medical thrillers.

His latest novel, Trick or Treat, delves into the murky world of counterfeit medicine, and he cautions that any pills bought online should come with a serious health warning.

Inspired by the massive worldwide sales of fake Viagra, his plot centres on Raymond McNally whose company produces a rival drug for treating erectile dysfunction, Erexat.

When reports start to emerge of deaths and serious side effects related to the new drug, he realises it’s a fake version which is responsible and tries to track down the counterfeiters with a computer hacker who suffers from epilepsy.

“Viagra is the number one drug bought over the internet and a lot of it is fake. You don’t know what you’re getting,” says James.

“People can’t be bothered going to their doctor or it’s embarrassing and it’s so easy to Google it and up come a whole lot of sites.

“You shouldn’t be able to buy Viagra over the internet.”

He’s been a keen writer since completing an Open University in English literature degree alongside his medical work.

His research into the side effects of drugs earned him a worldwide reputation after establishing the UK Epilepsy and Pregnancy Register while working in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

It identified that one of the most established epilepsy drugs, sodium valproate, was linked to birth defects.

“We exposed it in Northern Ireland,” he says.

“New drugs come on the market and 50 per cent of the people who take them are women or young women, who get married and have kids, and are these drugs safe for them?

“We set up the register and followed up the women who got pregnant into childhood and school years.

“Sodium valproate has been around for 50 years and it was causing malformations in 10 per cent of cases and learning difficulties in 30 per cent. “It has destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of kids.”

He admits it’s a strange twist of fate that the condition he researched and treated for years – suffered by singers Prince and Neil Young and Matrix actor Hugo Weaving – also caused his premature retirement, but it may have done him a favour.

James, a dad of two, had autoimmune encephalitis where his own immune system attacked itself and brought on a form of epilepsy which is now under control.

Before his diagnosis he was having minor seizures, which caused confusion and he still has problems with remembering locations.

“I was having these and working and driving and I didn’t know I was having them,” says the 64-year-old.

“I set up the epilepsy service in Northern Ireland and I was working with specialist doctors and nurses who didn’t know.

“My wife picked up on it and shopped me and I was admitted to the Royal and looked after by my colleagues.

“I loved my job and I always said I would retire at 60 but I never would have.

“My dad was a dentist who built up a farm in his later years for his retirement. He retired at 65 and was dead within two months.”

James has already started work in his next novel but the Covid pandemic has also called him back to the NHS.

He’s completing the training to become a vaccinator and urges everyone to get the Covid vaccine.

“It’s selfish and illogical not to get vaccinated.

“The only way we’re getting out of this situation is either to get antibodies or to get vaccinated.

“It’s like people who won’t wear their masks. It’s such a simple thing to do and it’s not protecting you, it’s protecting other people,” says the medic.

  • Trick or Treat is available from January 28.

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