New Safety Concerns for Osteoarthritis Drug

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Disappointing results from a Phase 3 clinical study are raising new safety concerns about an experimental class of pain-relieving drugs once considered a promising alternative to opioids.

Pfizer and Eli Lilly say 6.3% of osteoarthritis patients taking a 5 mg dose of tanezumab experienced rapidly progressive osteoarthritis in their joints. There was significant improvement in their pain and physical function, but the patients’ overall assessment of their condition was no better than those treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Patients taking a lower 2.5 mg dose of tanezumab did not have any significant improvement in their pain, quality of life or overall condition. And 3.2% experienced rapidly progressive osteoarthritis.

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“We are analyzing these findings in the context of the recent Phase 3 results as we assess potential next steps for tanezumab,” Ken Verburg, Pfizer Global Product Development, said in a statement. “We plan to review the totality of data from our clinical development program for tanezumab with regulatory authorities.”

Tanezumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody that targets nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that increases as a result of injury, inflammation or chronic pain. Tanezumab binds to NGF and inhibits pain signals from reaching the brain.

Tanezumab was considered so promising a therapy that it was given fast track designation from the FDA in 2017, a process that speeds up the development of new therapies to treat serious conditions.

Ironically, it was the FDA that slowed the development of NGF inhibitors in 2010 because of concerns that tanezumab made osteoarthritis worse in some patients. Most clinical studies of tanezumab did not resume until 2015.

The reappearance of the same safety issue and the marginal pain relief provided by tanezumab could be the last straw for the drug, according to one analyst.

“It is hard for us to imagine how these results could have been much worse. Pfizer indicated that they ‘plan to review the totality of data’ with regulatory authorities, which suggests to us that the co-sponsors will try to find a way to resurrect the program for some subset or sub-population of patients, but recognizes that this result puts the drug’s entire future in doubt,” SVB Leerink research analyst Geoffrey Porges said in a note to clients.

A clinical study of fasinumab, another NGF inhibitor being developed by Teva and  Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, was stopped by the FDA in 2016 after a patient showed signs of severe joint disease. Regeneron and Teva are continuing to study fasinumab in patients with chronic low back pain.

Pfizer and Eli Lilly are also studying tanezumab as a treatment for low back pain, and reported promising results from a Phase 3 trial in February. Rapidly progressive osteoarthritis was also reported in a small number of patients involved in that study.

New Non-Opioid Drug Effective in Treating Low Back Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Pfizer and Eli Lilly have announced positive results from a large Phase 3 study evaluating an experimental non-opioid pain reliever as a treatment for chronic low back pain.

Patients receiving 10 mg injections of tanezumab showed statistically significant improvement in back pain at 16 weeks compared to placebo. A lower dose of tanezumab 5 mg was not as effective. Over 1,800 people with chronic low back pain in North America, Europe and Asia participated in the study.

Tanezumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody that targets nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that increases in the body because of injury, inflammation or chronic pain. Tanezumab binds to NGF and inhibits pain signals from muscles, skin and organs from reaching the brain.

"This study demonstrates the potential of tanezumab to treat individuals suffering from moderate-to-severe chronic low back pain who have been unable to achieve relief with currently available medicines," said Ken Verburg, Pfizer’s tanezumab development team leader.

“This is one of the longest studies conducted to date in chronic low back pain. We look forward to further analyzing these results, and believe the data from this study will support our planned future global regulatory submissions in chronic low back pain."

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Pizer and Eli Lilly have also reported positive findings in evaluating tanezumab for the treatment of osteoarthritis. The Food and Drug Administration granted “fast track” designation to tanezumab in 2017 to help speed its development.

Tanezumab has a history of safety concerns. Clinical studies were halted in 2010 after Pfizer reported some osteoarthritis patients receiving the drug had worse symptoms and needed joint replacement surgery. Another safety issue arose in 2012 when tanezumab caused adverse changes in the nervous system of animals.  Most clinical studies of tanezumab did not resume until 2015.

In the current study, rapidly progressive osteoarthritis (RPOA) was observed in 1.4 percent of patients receiving tanezumab and 0.1 percent of patients in the other treatment groups. Joint fractures and total joint replacements were experienced in 0.4 percent and 0.7 percent of tanezumab-treated patients, respectively, while none were observed in the other treatment groups.

In addition to back pain, the ongoing Phase 3 program for tanezumab includes studies in osteoarthritis pain and cancer pain due to bone metastases.

FDA Approves Third Injectable Migraine Drug

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Migraine sufferers will soon have another treatment option. Eli Lilly has announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Emgality (galcanezumab), a monthly self-injected drug for the prevention of migraine in adults.

Emgality is the third injectable migraine drug the FDA has approved this year. In May, the agency gave approval to Amgen’s Aimovig (erenumab), the first migraine drug that uses fully human monoclonal antibodies to target receptors in the brain where migraines are thought to originate.  Last week, the FDA approved Teva’s Ajovy, a migraine prevention drug that can be injected monthly or quarterly.

Lilly said the efficacy and safety of Emgality was demonstrated in three Phase 3 clinical trials in patients with episodic or chronic migraine.

Emgality reduced the number of monthly migraine headache days by an average of 4.7 days in patients with episodic migraine and by 4.8 days in patients with chronic migraine.  

Migraine affects a billion people worldwide and about 36 million adults in the United States, according to the American Migraine Foundation. In addition to headache pain and nausea, migraine can cause vomiting, blurriness or visual disturbances, as well as sensitivity to light and sound. Women are three times more likely to suffer from migraine than men.

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“Despite the devastating impact of migraine, only about 10 percent of people living with the disease are currently taking a preventive treatment,” Christi Shaw, president of Lilly Bio-Medicines, said in a statement. “With this approval, we are thrilled to offer a preventive treatment option to adults living with this disease.”

Lilly said Emgality would be available “shortly” at a listed price of $575 for a single injection or $6,900 annually. That introductory price is identical to that of Aimovig and Ajovy, although various discounts or rebates could make the cost lower. Lilly said it would offer Emgality for up to 12 months free to patients with commercial insurance under its patient assistance program.   

“We know the impact high deductible and rising out-of-pocket costs have on families, and Lilly takes seriously our role in ensuring affordable access to Emgality for as many patients as possible,” said Shaw.

Earlier this month, the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use issued a positive opinion of Emgality for the prevention of migraine in adults who have at least four migraine days per month. That positive opinion was referred for final action to the European Commission, which grants drug approval in the European Union.

Positive Findings for New Osteoarthritis Drug

By Pat Anson, Editor

Pfizer and Eli Lilly have announced positive findings in treating osteoarthritis pain with an experimental non-opioid drug that has a history of safety concerns.  

Tanezumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody that targets nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that increases in the body because of injury, inflammation or chronic pain. Tanezumab binds to NGF and inhibits pain signals from muscles, skin and organs from reaching the brain.

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In the 16-week clinical study, osteoarthritis patients who were given two injections of tanezumab had significant improvement in their pain, physical function and assessment of their symptoms compared to a placebo. Osteoarthritis is a joint disorder that leads to thinning of cartilage and progressive joint damage.

“There is a substantial need for innovative new treatment options for osteoarthritis, as many patients are unable to find relief with currently available medicines and continue to suffer,” Ken Verburg of Pfizer Global Product Development said in a statement.

“We are encouraged by these results, which speak to the potential of tanezumab as a non-opioid treatment option for pain reduction and improvement in physical function.”

Preliminary safety data showed that tanezumab was generally well tolerated, with about 1% of patients discontinuing treatment due to adverse events. Rapidly progressive osteoarthritis was observed in about 1.5% tanezumab-treated patients, but none in the placebo arm.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted “fast track” designation to tanezumab last year to help speed its development as a new treatment for osteoarthritis and chronic low back pain.

Ironically, it was the FDA that slowed the development of NGF inhibitors in 2010 after Pfizer reported some osteoarthritis patients receiving tanezumab experienced worsening of their disease and needed joint replacements. Another safety issue arose in 2012 because the drug caused “adverse changes in the sympathetic nervous system of mature animals.”  Most clinical studies of tanezumab did not resume until 2015.

“We look forward to continuing to advance tanezumab in our ongoing global Phase 3 development program, which includes six studies in approximately 7,000 patients with osteoarthritis, chronic low back pain and cancer pain,” said Christi Shaw, senior vice president of Eli Lilly. In studies to date, tanezumab has not demonstrated a risk of addiction, misuse or dependence.

Regeneron recently halted high-dose trials of fasinumab, another NGF inhibitor, because the risk of harm outweighed the benefits of the drug. There is some concern that NGF antibodies work too well and encourage osteoarthritis patients to become more active, which accelerates joint deterioration.

FDA Gives Fast Track Designation to New Pain Med

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted “fast track” designation to a new, non-opioid pain medication for patients with osteoarthritis and chronic low back pain -- even though the drug has a history of safety issues.

Tanezumab is an investigational humanized monoclonal antibody that targets nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that increases in the body as a result of injury, inflammation or chronic pain. Tanezumab binds to NGF and inhibits pain signals from reaching the spinal cord and brain.

Tanezumab is the first NGF inhibitor to receive fast track designation from the FDA, a process that speeds up the development and review of new therapies to treat serious conditions with unmet medical needs.

“If approved, tanezumab would be the first in a new class of non-opioid chronic pain medications,” said Ken Verburg, Chief Development Officer, Neuroscience & Pain, Pfizer Global Product Development. “We believe it would represent an important medical advance in the treatment of debilitating osteoarthritis and chronic low back pain for patients who do not experience adequate pain relief or cannot tolerate currently available pain medications.”

Pfizer is jointly developing tanezumab with Eli Lilly. The two drug makers are currently recruiting patients for Phase 3 studies of tanezumab in 7,000 patients with osteoarthritis, low back pain or cancer pain. Participants will be injected with tanezumab once every eight weeks for treatment periods ranging from 16 to 56 weeks, followed by a 24-week safety follow-up period.  Results from the clinical trials are not expected until next year.

"It is estimated that there are more than 27 million Americans currently living with osteoarthritis and 23 million living with chronic low back pain, many of whom fail to achieve adequate pain relief despite treatment with various types of pain medications,” said Christi Shaw, Senior Vice President and President, Lilly Bio-Medicines.

“We are committed to offering innovative solutions to people suffering from chronic pain conditions, and look forward to working closely with the FDA to facilitate the development of tanezumab.”

Ironically, it was the FDA that slowed the development of NGF inhibitors in 2010 because of safety concerns. The agency ordered a partial halt to clinical studies after Pfizer said a small number of osteoarthritis patients receiving tanezumab experienced worsening of their disease and needed joint replacements. Another safety issue arose in 2012 because the drug caused “adverse changes in the sympathetic nervous system of mature animals.” 

Most clinical studies of tanezumab did not resume until 2015. Pfizer says the current Phase 3 studies include risk mitigation measures for joint safety and sympathetic nervous system safety.

A clinical study of fasinumab, another nerve growth factor drug being developed by Teva and  Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, was stopped by the FDA last year after a patient showed signs of severe joint disease. Regeneron and Teva said they would redesign the study of patients with chronic low back pain to exclude participants with advanced osteoarthritis.

Promising Results for New Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug

By Pat Anson, Editor

A new drug being developed by Eli Lilly significantly reduces pain, inflammation and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, according to the findings of an international research team published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Nearly ten percent of the patients taking the drug Baricitinib went into full remission.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own defenses attack joint tissues, causing pain, inflammation and bone erosion. Most RA treatments focus on suppressing the immune system to reduce inflammation and slow progression of the disease.

Baricitinib inhibits two enzymes, called Janus kinase 1 and 2, which are activated in the inflammatory response to RA.

“This is the first drug to demonstrate meaningful clinical benefit in patients who’ve failed virtually every other commercial drug for rheumatoid arthritis,” said lead author Mark Genovese, MD, a professor of immunology and rheumatology at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Researchers at Stanford and Medical University of Vienna in Austria enrolled 527 RA patients from 24 countries in the Phase 3 clinical study. The patients had been living with the autoimmune disease for 14 years, on average, had moderate to severe symptoms, and had not responded well to previous treatments. Patients were divided into three groups, one with a daily dosage of 2 mg of Baricitinib, one with 4 mg, and a control group given placebos.

After 24 weeks, the patients who received Baricitinib had significant improvements in their symptoms, suffering less pain, joint swelling and other signs of disease activity. The group with the 4 mg dose showed even better results than those with the 2 mg dose, compared to the placebo group.

"With Baricitinib, we will have a drug that works even if the currently employed medications are not sufficiently effective,” said co-author Joseph Smolen, manager of the University Clinic for Internal Medicine III at Medical University of Vienna. “Almost 10 % of the patients went into full remission (a cure-like state) within six months, and almost half of the patients demonstrated significant improvement of in disease activity and physical functioning. All this may constitute a new basis for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis that could become available in the near future."

Another advantage of Baricitinib is that it can be taken orally once a day and does not have to be administered intravenously or through injections, unlike other RA medications. Some patients in the study had side effects, such as mild upper respiratory infections and shingles.

About 1.5 million Americans and 1% of adults worldwide have rheumatoid arthritis. About three of every four people with the disease are women.

New injectable biologic drugs often work in controlling RA initially, but lose their effectiveness over time or have unacceptable side effects. They are also notoriously expensive, with some of the newer drugs costing $20,000 annually.

According to a recent study, RA patients enrolled in Medicare Part D plans paid an average out-of-pocket cost of $835 a month for a biologic in 2013. Costs varied widely depending on the drug – from $269 a month for the biologic infliximab to $2,993 a month for anakinra.

The Baricitinib trial was sponsored by Eli Lilly, which has filed for approval of the drug with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Three other Lilly-sponsored studies have shown  Baricitinib was effective in newly diagnosed patients, and in head-to-head competition with the RA medications adalimumab and methotrexate. Baricitinib is also being studied in trials for atopic dermatitis and systemic lupus erythematosus.

How I Finally Took Myself Off Cymbalta

By Crystal Lindell, Columnist

To be fair, the first time I took myself off Cymbalta, it was less of a “took myself off” situation and more of a “I ran out of medication and money, and couldn’t get my refill for a few days so I just thought I’d skip a few doses” situation.

But it turns out that going off that stuff cold turkey is seriously hell. It made me dizzy and nauseous, and basically electrocuted my brain every few minutes with something called “brain zaps.” When I finally realized that all of this was because I didn’t refill my prescription, I went to the pharmacy, got another dose, and about a day later, got my brain back.

Except I didn’t really get my brain back, because Cymbalta essentially turns your brain off.

Being on Cymbalta, which is now available as a generic called duloxetine, made me so tired that 16 hours of sleep felt like I just pulled an all-nighter. It killed my sex drive. It canceled out all my creative thoughts. And it basically made me feel like I was living in a London fog every day. I could sort of see the world, but not really. Also, it made me gain 30 pounds.

So, to sum up, Cymbalta really sucks.

The worst part about this whole thing though isn’t the side effects. It’s that my doctor originally put me on Cymbalta to help with my chronic pain, but it actually did nothing at all to help that.

Although I will admit that it did curb all those suicidal thoughts that I was having because I wasn’t on enough pain medication and I thought I was going to feel like a semi-truck was crushing my ribs all day, every day, for the rest of my life.

But eventually I did get on the right mix of pain meds, and I realized my future wasn’t quite as bleak as I had thought. And so, even after that horrible experience of kind-of, accidentally going off Cymbalta last winter, I decided that I really wanted to go off it completely. And I thought maybe I’d just try the cold turkey thing again.

And before you’re all, “OMG!! You are an idiot!! Why would you ever take yourself off a drug like that cold turkey?” There are three things you should know:

1. I’ve had doctors, including one at the freaking MAYO CLINIC, tell me before to go off all sorts of drugs cold turkey, including sleeping pills, antidepressants, and opioids. So I got the impression that all this business about not going off certain drugs cold turkey is more of a suggestion than a recommendation.

2. My doctor never told me NOT to go off Cymbalta cold turkey. Ever. Not one time. Not even in passing as he shook my hand at the end of the appointment. Not even when I told him I was thinking about going off the drug and he shut me down by saying, “Just stay on it. It’s probably doing more than you think.”

I also live in a really small town, with one small pharmacy, and they never gave me any sort of information when I picked up my prescription for this drug telling me about the side effects of going off it cold turkey.

3. (And probably most important) The dosing is such that going off Cymbalta cold turkey is kind of your only option. As far as I can tell, the lowest dose is 20 mg and it only comes in capsules, so you can’t just cut them into smaller and smaller pieces until you’ve weaned off it. After you're on the smallest dose, there’s no choice but to go cold turkey.

Also, honestly, I really did think the withdrawal symptoms would subside after maybe a day. I was wrong. After about a week, I couldn’t take it anymore and I went back on Cymbalta.

I really, really wanted off this drug though, so I decided to call Dr. Google. And I found out that some people were just opening the capsules and pouring a little more out each day until they got down to nothing. I decided to do the same thing. And, while it ended up taking me a few months of meticulously opening the capsules and eyeing it every day, I finally got completely off Cymbalta. And I was lucky enough to avoid most of the side effects that I experienced when I went off it cold turkey.

When I confessed all this to my doctor though, I’m pretty sure he A) Totally did not believe me about the brain zaps, and B) Was secretly judging me for my methods — especially since the makers of Cymbalta explicitly say you should not open the capsules.

I've written before about how horrible Cymbalta is though, and how people are actually suing Eli Lilly, the makers of the drug, because they’ve been kind of shady with how they portray the withdrawal symptoms.

“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, one of several lawyers suing Eli Lilly on behalf of patients.

That’s a pretty big difference. So maybe my doctor really didn’t know that it could be an issue for me to go off Cymbalta cold turkey and that’s why he never mentioned it. Or maybe he really did think it was helping me more than I realized. I don’t know.

I do know that I’m really glad I got off that drug. I also know that if any other chronic pain patient ever asks me my opinion about Cymbalta, I will definitely advise them against taking it for pain.

I just hope it’s not too late.

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.

Cymbalta and Lyrica in Legal Battles

By Pat Anson, Editor

The makers of Cymbalta and Lyrica – two blockbuster drugs widely used to treat fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions – face legal battles this summer that could potentially cost the companies billions of dollars.

In London, a court case begins next week on Pfizer’s efforts to keep doctors in the U.K. from prescribing pregabalin – a cheaper generic version of Lyrica.

And in Los Angeles, a federal judge this week ordered Eli Lilly to face claims in lawsuits alleging that the company misled consumers about the side effects of withdrawal from Cymbalta.

Over 5,000 patients have filed suit against Lilly claiming that Cymbalta caused “brain zaps” – electric shocking sensations – as well as nausea, vomiting and insomnia when they stopped taking the drug.  The first two cases will be heard in August.

“The withdrawal symptoms from Cymbalta were hell,” wrote Crystal Lindell, a Pain News Network columnist in a recent article.

“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.” 

Several readers shared their own experiences with Cymbalta.

“My neurologist put me on Cymbalta, I took 2 pills, I thought my head was going to explode,” wrote Judy Dunn.

“I suffered from 6 weeks of vertigo, nausea, dizziness, and MASSIVE headaches,” said Andy, who was prescribed Cymbalta to treat depression. “I will never take Cymbalta again. EVER.”

“While on the drug I did get a better mood and it helped a lot, but it raised my blood pressure and I was shaky and jittery. I also went through the brain ZAPS!!” wrote Candra Clark.

“We believe in our defenses to these claims and we will continue to defend Lilly vigorously,” Scott MacGregor, a Lilly spokesman told Bloomberg Business.

Cymbalta generated annual sales of $5 billion for Lilly until its patent expired in 2013 and cheaper generic versions of Doluxetine became available.

Lyrica Legal Battle

Like Cymbalta, Lyrica wasn’t originally developed to treat pain. It was used as a treatment for anxiety and epilepsy until drug maker Pfizer realized it could also be effective for fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain.

Pfizer’s patent on Lyrica for epilepsy and anxiety expired last year, but its secondary patent for pain is good until July of 2017 – and that is the essence of its legal fight in the U.K.

Rival drug makers started making pregabalin – the generic version of Lyrica – when its original patent expired. But it didn’t take long for doctors to also start prescribing pregabalin for pain.

According to Pharmalot, about 80% of all U.K. patients on pregabalin are using it to treat pain and Pfizer has launched an aggressive campaign to stop that. Last year the company wrote an unusual letter to physician groups in the U.K. warning them that prescribing pregabalin for pain was a violation of its patent.

“Pfizer believes the supply of generic pregabalin for use in the treatment of pain whilst the pain patent remains in force in the U.K. would infringe Pfizer’s patent rights,” the company said in the letter.

The Royal College of Physicians, which represents 29,000 U.K. doctors, responded with a statement of its own.

“Pregabalin is a useful drug for many patients and, given the current financial pressures the NHS (Britain’s National Health Service) is under, it is disappointing that a pharmaceutical company has made a move that will, potentially, prevent some patients from getting access to it,” a spokesman said.

The NHS has since issued guidance to doctors telling them to use the brand name Lyrica when prescribing pregabalin for pain “so far as reasonably possible.” Pfizer is seeking a stronger statement from the British High Court.

Ironically, Pfizer paid $2.3 billion dollars in 2009 to settle criminal and civil charges in the U.S. for the “off-label” marketing of Lyrica and other medications – the very sort of off-label use it is trying to stop in the U.K.

Lyrica remains one of Pfizer’s top selling drugs, generating $5.1 billion in revenue in 2014.  

Patients Deserve to Know the Truth about Cymbalta

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.”

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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.