Posted by: Andrew Haynes18 AUG 2014
The ITV crime drama Endeavour is based on the early career of a fictional detective better known from his later televisual persona, Inspector Morse. Two series of Endeavour have been broadcast and are now available on DVD.
Within the first few minutes of the first episode of Series 1, the young Endeavour Morse interviews a GP: “In Miss Bell’s room,” he says, “we found a bottle of digoxin, which is a derivative of digitalis, isn’t it? Quite dangerous, I would have thought, Dr Prentice?”
“Yes, quite lethal,” replies the GP: “It’s not called deadly nightshade for nothing.”
Indeed, it is not called deadly nightshade for nothing. In fact, it is not called deadly nightshade at all: it’s called foxglove. If ITV’s scriptwriters don’t know their Digitalis purpurea from their Atropa belladonna they should perhaps find a pharmacist to advise them on the materia medica.
Later in the same episode, it is suggested that the young woman had been killed not by her prescribed digoxin but by Drinamyl. Morse’s response was, “Amphetamine? They’re illegal, aren’t they? As of last year.”
Wrong again! The series was set in 1965, and amphetamines had not been made illegal in 1964. Indeed, they are still legal, although now strictly controlled under misuse of drugs legislation.
Drinamyl was a branded Smith Kline & French product containing dexamphetamine and amylobarbitone. (I am using the drug names and spellings that were current in 1965.) It was prescribed as both an antidepressant and an appetite suppressant, and found its way onto the black market as “purple hearts”. However, it was never banned and it was not until 1978 that it was voluntarily withdrawn from the market.
I have seen many other examples of pharmacy-related errors in television programmes, films, newspapers, books, etc. Only last week I read a newly published novel that mentioned six drugs but spelled three of them incorrectly.
For an appropriate fee, I am happy to offer my services as an adviser to television companies, movie-makers and publishers. I am sure many other pharmacists would be willing to make the same offer. But I fear it would be a futile endeavour.