Click here to view original story
July 24, 2013
Tom Blackwell | 13/07/18 | Last Updated: 13/07/24 10:14 AM ET
The injection-drug user arrived at the northern Ontario hospital complaining of weakness in his arms and legs, and admitting that he had just experimented with an unlikely new high. The man had blended cocaine with the anti-depressant Wellbutrin and shot it into what he thought was his jugular vein.
In fact, the patient had hit the artery running through his vertebrae, with disastrous results. The anti-depressant can have an alarming, tissue-destroying effect when injected, and an emergency MRI showed that his brain stem and spinal cord were turning “to mush.”
As the neurological havoc began to permanently shut down the patient’s body, he remained conscious and aware — “most people’s nightmare scenario,” noted Dr. James Truong, an emergency physician at North Bay Regional hospital. The man asked to be taken off life support, and died soon after.
It is a chilling example of a surprising — and potentially fatal — new trend in drug abuse: snorting, smoking and even shooting up the popular anti-depressant to get what addicts call an amphetamine-like high.
Some doctors and now the Ontario chief coroner are sounding an alarm about the unusual development, urging physicians to take care when prescribing the seemingly innocuous drug.
A mock public-health poster Dr. Truong created goes so far as to suggest the drug’s unique, tissue-rotting effect when injected makes it like a “zombie virus.”
Bupropion, sold under such brands as Wellbutrin and Zyban, is prescribed millions of times a year in Canada to treat depression, to help people quit smoking and to offset the impact of seasonal-affective disorder. It is considered so safe, pharmacists can prescribe it in at least one province, and the U.S. Food And Drug Administration classifies the drug as “non-abusable.”
Yet in its recent alert to physicians, the coroner’s office identified six Ontario deaths in the past two and a half years that were at least partly caused by bupropion abuse.
“We usually see the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Roger Skinner, the coroner behind the alert. “We see the cases where there’s a death, but for every one of those there are probably many more where folks are using and not dying.”
Prescription drug addiction is an explosive problem across Canada, but this is among the most unlikely of medicines to end up on the street.
In fact, abuse is being fuelled by the relative ease with which people can obtain bupropion, and the new-generation anti-depressant’s reputation as anything but addictive, experts say.