Nasty effects as patients quit drug—(The New Zealand Herald)

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The New Zealand Herald

4:00AM Saturday Jun 06, 2009
By Martin Johnston

Patients taking a common anti-depressant have told of considering taking their own lives and experiencing other nasty side-effects when trying to quit the drug.

Nine people contacted the Weekend Herald to relate bad experiences of anti-depressants, after an article last week about Jude Pinkerton and the reactions she suffered.

The 22-year-old spoke out about paroxetine hydrochloride after she descended into a mental “fog” and twice tried to commit suicide before being taken off the drug in April.

She said she was recovering, but still believed she was suffering its ill-effects.

Three who emailed the Weekend Herald complained of serious problems when quitting paroxetine.

One, who asked not to be named, said she had been unable to stop taking the drug – she started in 2004 – because when she tried to quit, the side-effects were so bad.

“Even by reducing dosage very slowly over many months I eventually reached a point of having extremely severe withdrawal symptoms including suicidal feelings, akathisia [restlessness], shaking, vomiting and inability to sleep or eat. I have basically become a drug addict.

“The medical and pharmaceutical community cover up this withdrawal syndrome by labelling it ‘return of original symptoms’.”

“I now wish I had never started taking this dangerous chemical.”

The “withdrawal syndrome” of paroxetine is well known to psychiatrists, but they disagree on how big a problem it is.

Paroxetine withdrawal is a major problem,” said psychiatrist Associate Professor David Menkes, of Auckland University and Waikato Hospital.

But his university colleague Dr Simon Hatcher said it was an issue, but not a big one.

Data for the Aropax brand of paroxetine says trials found withdrawal problems occurred in 30 per cent of adults on the drug, compared with 20 per cent on placebo pills.

Symptoms included dizziness and confusion – and, in young people, who are allowed the drug only under strict conditions, suicide attempts. Some studies have linked anti-depressants to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts, but state drugs regulator Medsafe says “suicidality … has not been proven to correlate with or lead to completed suicide”.

Professor Menkes said the paroxetine/fluoxetine group were less effective and more prone to bad reactions than most prescribers realised. But they also worked well for some and had saved lives.

Dr Hatcher said it was important doctors explained the possibility of withdrawal problems.