Should psych drugs be avoided at ALL costs?

My brain isn’t functioning today quite honestly so my apologies if the following makes no sense whatsoever. It’s long and I ended up rambling.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether there are any benefits to using pharmaceutical drugs. I have blogger friends who are very much anti-pharmaceuticals anything, try to avoid drugs as much as possible but take them if necessary, or think pharmaceutical drugs are a Godsend.

I’m still trying to figure out where I stand.

Pharmaceutical companies are in the business of making money. It is not to their advantage to put out completely shoddy products that do not work. I’m sure many of them bury negative data and findings that do not shed a positive light on their drugs but if something works overall, they’ll put it out there. I don’t believe the doctors who are involved in these trials are all dirty, rotten sell-outs. Some of them are very well-meaning and honest who work to make these drugs as effective as possible. Call me naïve if you like but I just can’t bring myself to believe there are more greedy docs who skew results than there are those who are concerned with advancement.

I don’t think twice about popping Excedrin Migraine when I’ve got a painful, debilitating migraine; I have no problem taking naproxen (aka Aleve) when I’ve got menstrual cramps, and taking ibuprofen isn’t an issue if I have severe muscle pain. I don’t question the safety of these drugs. I’ve used them for so long, they’ve proven to be relatively safe for me (not everyone can tolerate those drugs) and efficacious. The safety risk of taking Excedrin Migraine sometimes outweighs the benefits of not taking it. (Note: I only speak of adults in terms of ingesting this kind of medication.I don’t believe developing bodies, such as youngsters, are able to handle medication that can significantly affect mood.)

When it comes to psych meds, I am not anti-medication. Psych meds should be taken on a case-by-case basis. There are some people who consider these meds to be a life-saver while others complain that it has made them miserable and worsened their lives. This is the gamble people take when choosing to ingest a psych med—most people don’t know that. Trouble is, most people don’t know when the stakes are high enough to take that risk.

I shouldn’t be in a position to judge anyone but when I hear people taking antidepressants based on circumstances—a job loss, failed relationship, loss of a life—I worry that it’s unnecessary. We are becoming a nation that is more reliant on “quick fixes” rather than developing coping mechanisms. It’s easier to pop a pill and dull your emotions than it is to face problems, tackle issues head on, and learn to work your way through it. Case in point: rising unemployment hasn’t slowed sales of antidepressants or sleeping pills.

  • I have an aunt who was a violent paranoid-schizophrenic. She was placed in a mental institution and drugged up the wazoo. Now, she’s basically existing; the lights are on but no one’s home. The drugs have killed her. She’s alive but not really.
  • My father was a non-violent paranoid-schizophrenic. It got to the point where we needed to medicate him to get him on track. The medication helped him to function “normally” but his thought processes and physical ability was significantly slowed. He once told me that he felt useless because my mother was busting her butt at work to pay for my college and he was basically an invalid because his mental illness had prevented him from being able to work. He died 4 months later. A few days after the funeral, my mom began to find his psych meds hidden all around the house. I often wonder if the drugs killed him.
  • Another aunt (this is all on the paternal side of the family) also became a paranoid-schizophrenic. She was a brilliant woman who was basically reduced to moving from place to place to the point where she eventually became homeless and could not hold down a job. She disappeared for a while but during one cold winter, was found and brought into a homeless shelter. She was placed on meds and her cognitive functions returned despite the fact that her speech was sometimes garbled. She traveled the world, went on cruises and various excursions. The change was remarkable. Psych meds improved her life and saved her—the benefits of the drugs outweighed the side effects.

As I withdraw from Lamictal, I am curious to see who I am without this drug. Will my creative juices flow freely once again or are they now somewhat hindered? Will my cognitive functioning correct itself or will I forever suffer from problems? Will my short-term memory loss issues smooth out or will I still suffer from intermittent forgetfulness? I have some side effects that may remain with me for a while or perhaps forever (though I hope not) but seeing others fully recover after taking drugs for 10 times longer than I have gives me hope.

I feel the majority of my progress has come from intensive counseling and being infused with the truths as laid out in the Bible. I’d say 90% of my progress has been due to counseling. I give the meds 10%. You can tell I don’t place much stock in them. But they’ve helped to cut down on the mixed episodes.

So far, I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts are behaviors that are out of the ordinary. (Thank GOD.) I’ve been dealing with a mild depression but that stems from basing my worth based off of my career rather than any biological imbalances. The last time I suffered a severe depression, I was on Lexapro (if that tells you anything).

I’ve gotten a lot of resistance and concern from family members who question my decision to come off of the medication. They’ve seen a miraculous change in me and attribute it to being on meds. Meds aren’t a cure-all. They don’t see the counseling and shifting of thought processes going on that has helped me to develop coping mechanisms. Meds may help people “cope” but they don’t develop the tools needed to cope.

I’ve decided that I’ll probably give that Christian psychiatrist a call. My counselor recommended him and she said that he’s very neutral on meds and doesn’t shove them on anyone. I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if anyone would accept me as a patient only to lose me in the end—she insisted he wouldn’t mind. The intake cost is hefty but since I was able to temp a few days for my job this week—I’m not permanently returning, I can swing it.

Which brings me back to my position on psych meds: I said it earlier but I think it’s a case-by-case basis. In my personal life, I’ve seen the benefits outweigh the side effects and I’ve seen the side effects outweigh the benefits. And I’ve seen benefits (not necessarily beneficial) as a result of side effects. Psychiatry is the biggest medical guessing game of all medical specialties. There are no certainties, and there’s no one medication that works best for everyone. Pharmaceutical companies make it a point to put the disclaimer on the patient information sheet that they’re not exactly sure HOW these drugs work. All that stuff about serotonin, dopamine, and neurotransmitters is pure speculation when it comes to depression. You’ll have me convinced about chemical imbalances once I can get a MRI and blood test done. Until then, it’s all trial-and-error.

So if I do suffer from relapses while withdrawing from this medication and it gets to the point where I may need to be hospitalized, I’m not averse to remaining on the drug. Better to be alive and on a psych drug than dead because I was determined not to use it at risk to my safety. If I end up having to stay on the drug, the future of giving birth to children will seem a bit more uncertain.

Lamictal withdrawal update

Last day on 100 mg, I think. I’ve been calling around to psychiatrists in my husband’s insurance network and it’s incredibly out of date despite the “Information updated on 3/22/2009” fine print. Someone’s not doing his or her job. I’m tired and don’t care to call around some more and deal with some nurse sounds pissed off for working in a “looney bin” and won’t give me a referral number.

So I’m left to my own devices for now and will be dropping down to 75 mg tomorrow. I’m just not sure I’ll find a psychiatrist who’s supportive enough to take me on as a patient only to lose me again in the end. Maybe the $400 2-hour intake with that Christian psychiatrist might be worth the money although I really balk at the cost.

In the meantime, I still am not sleeping well and have been sleeping all sorts of wacky hours. My job came back at me with an offer of more work but I declined this time. My job is to remain alert and catch errors and I am FAR from it. I don’t even feel safe driving right now. My comprehension level for anything is total and utter poop.

I’m simply alive and surviving. That’s all that can be asked from day to day, right? I’ll still make a few posts and my apologies in advance if they’re somewhat incoherent.

Lamictal withdrawal: fatigue & insomnia

I'm having the weirdest combo of side effects on this. I'm tired all the time, but I can't get to sleep easily no matter how hard I try. Then when I do sleep, it's craptastic and it feels like I never slept in the first place. Anyone else experienced this or heard of anyone who's experienced this? It's wearing me out and causing me to suffer from a lack of patience.

Lamictal withdrawal: 125 mg… and counting

I'm down to 125 mg… I'm feeling sluggish and wiped out. I have what I call "body zaps" — basically I feel little prickles, like someone sticking a pin in my skin — that I find highly uncomfortable. (It's similar to feeling "brain zaps" or "brain shivers" throughout your body.) They mainly occur when I'm still, especially when I'm laying down in bed at night.

My sleeping schedule is also out of whack. While my body can be tired by midnight or 1 am, my brain simply will NOT shut off. My brain decides to shut down along with my body around 3 or 4 am from sheer exhaustion.

A few people have recommended I take melatonin to get back to a normal sleeping pattern, but I'm not sure whether that would be okay as I withdraw from the medication. Melatonin seems relatively harmless but right now, I can't tell what's normal with my body and what's not.

Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) information

Here’s a list of compiled links providing information on Pristiq. These links include info from my blog and others.

Effexor (venlafaxine) Withdrawal

I’ve compiled a list of my posts on Effexor (venlafaxine) withdrawal in chronological order. Do NOT take any of the information from these posts as official medical advice. This is based on my own experience; experiences may vary.

Antidepressant rankings: Zoloft and Lexapro considered best overall

A number of antidepressants were recently ranked in different surveys:

Zoloft and Lexapro came in first for a combination of effectiveness and fewer side effects, followed by Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Cymbalta, and Luvox among others.

The first was efficacy — or how likely patients were to experience the desired effects of the drug.

Efficacy:

1. Remeron (Mirtazapine)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
4. Zoloft (Sertraline)
5. Celexa (Citalopram)
6. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
7. Paxil (Paroxetine)
8. Savella (Milnacipran)
9. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

The second was acceptability — the likelihood that a patient would continue using a drug for the duration of the study (it is generally assumed that a high ratio of patients dropping out indicates the presence of undesirable side effects for a drug).

Acceptability:

1. Zoloft (Sertraline)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
4. Celexa (Citalopram)
5. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
6. Savella (Milnacipran)
7.
Remeron (Mirtazapine)
8. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
9. Paxil (Paroxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

antidepressantsMy experience with Lexapro was a disaster and I’ve written about Zoloft’s connection with irritability and rage. Paxil’s side effects are especially rough (see Bob Fiddaman’s Seroxat page) while Effexor’s withdrawal effects proved to be significantly challgenging. Although Prozac offset Effexor’s withdrawal symptoms, it causes severe somnolence that can impair cognitive functioning. And last but not least, Cymbalta contributed to the unfortunate death of Traci Johnson who had no history of depression.

These drugs may be effective for many people but it’s still a guessing game. Dr. Mark I. Levy, quoted in ABC News’s article on the rankings, mentioned that while psychiatrists may not have much use for the rankings, he sees them as beneficial for primary care physicians. And Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a professor at Duke University Medical Center, adds:

“I would be likely to start patients on either Zoloft [because it’s cheaper] or Lexapro … Unfortunately, that is almost none of my patients. By the time they get to me [a psychiatrist], the primary-care doctors have tried Zoloft and other antidepressants, so my patient are not the “new to medication” kind of patients,” he said.

I won’t rehash my thoughts on PCPs prescribing antidepressants and other psych meds. You can read about them here.

Coming off of Lamictal (lamotrigine)

Medication

I am officially joining the ranks of those who are facing the challenge of Lamictal withdrawal.

On Wednesday, I went to see my psychiatrist with a plan to come off of Lamictal:

  • 150 mg for 3 months
  • 100 mg for 3 months
  • 75 mg for 3 months
  • 50 mg for 3 months
  • 25 mg for 3 months
  • 12.5 mg (depending on whether my side effects on the 25 mg are bad)

I told him that my husband and I were looking to have a child sometime next year and that I’d like to taper off of Lamictal but was open to the possibility of getting back on it should I encounter severe suicidal ideation and mixed episodes. He warned me against it and thought it was a bad idea.

He proceeded to say that it’s a maintenance medication, I have a lifelong disorder, it won’t just go away, my symptoms would probably return, I have a higher risk of attempting suicide, blah blah blah — am I aware of all these risks?

He explained people with bipolar depression after coming off of meds can actually be worse, undergo severe depressive episodes, have more suicide attempts, and yadda yadda yadda. To sum it all up, I was risking my life just to get off of Lamictal.

My pdoc was trying to scare me into staying medicated.

He then added if I really wanted to come off of my meds, I could “just stop.”

WHAT?! My eyes flew open.

He stated he’d had patients who had stopped cold turkey without a problem. According to him, anticonvulsants don’t have severe withdrawal effects.

WHAT?! His advice just flies in the face of what most doctors recommend. In fact, quitting Lamictal immediately increases the risk of seizures, which is exactly what I’m afraid of.

Philip’s experience and Gianna’s experience along with the comments on each blog are proof that many people have experienced tremendous withdrawal effects from decreasing Lamictal’s dosage. In the past, I’ve quit Paxil and Lexapro cold turkey — both with not-so-good results to put it mildly.

I insisted that I wanted to come off of it slowly so he said I could just cut my 200 mg pills in half and jump down to 100 mg and stop after 2 weeks.

For real? Two weeks, doc? I had a plan that would take me over a year and you’re reducing it to a mere two weeks? On 100 mg dosage?

Again, I insisted that I wanted to take more time. He reluctantly wrote me a 30-day prescription for 100 mg and said since I was off the medication, I had no need to see him anymore. “Good luck,” he flatly told me.

When I came home after the appointment (and a bitching session to my husband), I remembered that I’d stashed a few 150 mg pills away sometime ago after I jumped back up to 200. So as of Wednesday, my arsenal included:

  • A bottle of six 150 mg pills
  • A bottle twenty-five 200 mg pills
  • A prescription for thirty 100 mg pills

I dropped down to the 150 mg on Wednesday and have been doing all right so far. I intend to keep myself at 150 mg (cutting the 200 mg and the 100 mg in half) for at least 2 weeks, then drop down to 75 mg for 2 weeks and then 50 mg for 2 weeks. I’m most worried about coming off of the 25 mg. This is a way more accelerated plan that I hoped for but I’ve got to work with the cards that I’m dealt.

We’ll see what happens.