By Crystal Lindell, Columnist
Look, yes, Cymbalta probably saved my life. But it also sucks. So, I’m not surprised people are suing Eli Lilly, the makers of the drug.
I can still remember talking to a nurse over the phone at the Mayo Clinic’s pain rehab program when she mentioned Cymbalta. It was the same pain program my insurance company would eventually deny, prompting the Mayo Clinic to ask for $35,000 up-front, and prompting me to laugh in their faces and instead buy a $7 Yoga DVD at Best Buy and hope for the best.
Anyway, yeah, the nurse. She was all, “Oh! Cymbalta is a WONDERFUL drug! So many people love it! And it works so well! That’s a great drug to go on when you go off opioids!”
But all I could think was, “Obviously you have never been on Cymbalta or opioids or had chronic pain, because Cymbalta sucks.”
I always tell people I was tricked into starting the drug.
My doctor, whom I really do love, put me on it about a year and a half ago. He brought it up at my first appointment with him -- the same appointment I also decided to confess that I was having suicidal thoughts daily. He told me he was putting me on Cymbalta because it had been shown to help with pain. I’d later find out that was only half the reason.
When I went to a follow-up appointment, the doctor asked if Cymbalta had helped with my pain at all. And because my pain is stronger than the U.S. military, it hadn’t. But, then came the reveal.
“Well, how’s your mood?” he asked, slowly.
“Actually, better,” I replied, realizing that had been his secret plan all along.
But you know what? I can sincerely tell you that I didn’t want to kill myself anymore. I mean, I still thought about it, but the drug had sort of diluted the thoughts, and made them less of a legitimate option and more of a fleeting idea I had in passing.
And I totally get why my doctor did what he did. Because when someone is suicidal, it just makes sense that staying alive is the one and only goal. So, in the beginning I was fine with whatever worked — and it just so happened that Cymbalta is what worked for me.
Until it didn’t.
Cymbalta was able to keep the suicidal thoughts away, but it also kept a lot of other thoughts away too. Like my creative thoughts, my writing thoughts and, honestly, my sex thoughts. The drug straight up slaughtered my sex drive.
It also made me so tired. Like, sleep-for-16-hours-a-day tired. Yes, it had help from all the other drugs I’m on, but I can clearly tell you that the fatigue is worse than it was before I started taking Cymbalta.
So, a couple months ago I tried to go off it. I chose the only method I knew and cut it out cold turkey. Within just two days, my writing voice came back like the great flood. And I was getting turned on by my boyfriend again. I even got to see and understand 8 a.m. again for the first time in like a year.
All was well with the world. Except when suddenly it wasn’t. Because Oh. My. God. The withdrawal symptoms from Cymbalta were hell.
Less than a week after my last pill, I was getting so dizzy that I seriously thought I had a new disease. Then, there was this thing called the brain zaps, that I didn’t understand until they happened to me. In short, it literally felt like my brain was being, well, zapped by electricity.
There was also nausea and vertigo and just an overall feeling of falling off a skyscraper.
I can honestly tell you that going off Cymbalta was worse than going off any opioid I’ve ever been on. At least with opioids it only takes like 18 hours to get out of your system, and when it’s over, it’s over. Cymbalta lingered. It took it’s time with me. It gradually poured on the withdrawal symptoms in a tortuous piling on.
So, a week after I went off it, I went back on it.
Apparently though, I’m not the only one staring down at a lifetime of daily Cymbalta doses. According to the Internet, (always a reliable source) there’s a possible class action lawsuit being brought against Eli Lilly.
“Studies show that between 50% and 78% of Cymbalta users experience antidepressant withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing the drug. Yet the drug label misleadingly states that Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms occur in only 1% to 2% of cases,” claims attorney Steven D. Gacovino.
You can read more about it here.
Now, I literally have no idea how legit this whole thing is. Can you really fill out a form on a random website and be part of a class action lawsuit? I have no idea. But I can tell you that I totally submitted the form.
If nothing else, doctors should be telling their patients about this. They should have a conversation that goes something along the lines of, “Hey, this drug might quell your suicidal thoughts, but you’re never going to be able to go off of it. I mean, you will, but it will be hell. You’ll probably get vertigo and brain zaps and you may not be able to stand up without falling over. Also, there’s no telling how long those withdrawal symptoms are going to last.”
If nothing else, patients deserve to know the truth. I deserved to know the truth.
Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching "Burn Notice" episodes on Netflix and Snicker's Bites. She has had intercostal neuralgia since February 2013.
Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.