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Medication Safety

You have to consider the risk vs the reward in the treatment of mental illness. Well, actually, you have to consider the risk vs the reward in many things but it's particularly critical when you're talking about the treatment of an illness. This is because nothing comes for free. No medication (or alternative treatment, for that matter) comes without side effects. You have to be aware of this going in so you can make a good decision. You have to understand risk vs reward in the treatment of mental illness.
Medication noncompliance in bipolar disorder is generally considered a bad thing -- and it generally is -- but can medication noncompliance ever be a good thing? I would say so, in very limited situations. Read on to see why medication noncompliance in bipolar disorder can occasionally be a good thing.
When you’re changing medications, it becomes very clear how much bipolar medication changes suck. Being on the first one(s) sucks and changing to the next one(s) sucks, too. And people not on medication may not get this. They may not get what it’s like to have to take medication for bipolar and they certainly may not get why bipolar medication changes suck.
Today I tuned into a webcast on managing bipolar depression. I wasn’t sure what to expect although I was aware the webcast was designed for doctors so I knew the level of discourse would be high. And I must say it was a great hour. Granted, I knew the vast majority of what was being presented but the nuggets of new items here and there definitely made it worthwhile. What’s more is that this view on managing bipolar depression is evidence-based and they present the numbers behind what’s recommended. They make clear which studies are drug company-funded and which are not. It’s the kind of information that I wish every doctor knew. And, if you have bipolar, especially bipolar depression, it’s the kind of information you should know too.
Recently I went through a nasty bipolar medication change. I stopped one antipsychotic in favour of another. Of course, this was to improve my overall treatment. And as I’ve said before, if you change nothing then nothing changes, and in this case, I had to change medications in the hopes of changing my mental wellness. It did not go well. What ended up happening was a gradual slide into horrific suicidality. The new med was not effective for me. But I learned something from this experience. Before changing bipolar medications, it’s a good idea to put into place a medication change safety plan.
Recently, our blogger Natalie Jeanne Champagne wrote a post: Mental Illness: Understanding Rational and Irrational Fears and this got me thinking about the fears I, and others, have had about bipolar medication. Some of the bipolar medication fears are completely justified and rational while some really are not. Some are fears that stem from real possibilities while others are often propagated by fear-mongering groups online or our own internal catastrophizing.
I have been on every bipolar medication you can name and likely a few you could not. I have been on more medication combinations than I can remember. I have spent years dealing with medication side effects. There is very little medication pain that I cannot tolerate. I have taken medications that have made me feel amazingly well and bipolar medications that have made me feel intolerably ill. I’ve seen treatment miracles and treatment devastations. And still, I feel nothing but terror when I think of taking new bipolar medication.
Some time ago, I wrote about generic medications. I explained that generic medications are bioequivalent to brand name medications within a given margin. Generic medications may use binding and other inactive agents that are different from the brand name medication. All of this can lead to a generic being less effective than the brand name drug in a small percentage of cases. Usually though, the generic works just fine for people and the switch is unnoticeable. And all that information was correct. But new information has arisen. And it’s alarming information to me. It’s information on exactly how bioequivalence is determined for medication and in the case of one generic medication, the generic of Wellbutrin XL 300 mg, it caused an ineffective drug to be allowed on the market for many years.
Just to be clear, I’m not the biggest fan of drug companies. I’ve written about how much I dislike them and I’ve written about how wrong it is when they break the law and I’ve written about how ridiculous the penalties are when they do. I understand why people are outraged at companies that produce a healthcare product and then don’t follow the rules designed to protect of the health of the consumers that take it. But that aside, people seem to be really mad that pharmaceutical companies put profits before people. And my point is, so what?
If there’s one thing to remember about psychiatric (psych) meds it’s that you need to take them and you need to take them on time. This is because medication puts chemicals into your bloodstream and in order to keep a consistent level of these chemicals in your bloodstream, you must take the drug as prescribed. This is particularly critical in bipolar disorder as it’s easy to become unstable with an uneven level of psych med in your blood. But we’re all human. We all mess up and forget things and we all miss a dose from time to time. So how do you handle missing a dose of a psych med?
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