by Sarah Venn
From childhood I have suffered with a balance disorder; a continual bobbing or spinning sensation, which varies in intensity.
Sarah has been taking Seroxat for seven years
I grew up with this problem and by the time I was 16, had undergone several tests, which seemed to confirm this was not an inner ear problem.
As I grew older the sensation became worse. In my second year at University I returned to my GP looking for help; the sensation was distressing and interfering with my studies and social life.
The GP diagnosed the cause of the balance disorder as Generalised Anxiety Disorder and prescribed Seroxat to treat it. I am now 27, and have been taking Seroxat for 7 years, unable to stop.
My balance disorder, and the distress it caused, is nearly resolved, following expert assessment and treatment at the National Hospital for Neuro-otology.
However, I am unable to stop taking Seroxat, which has caused me more problems and distress than living with the balance problem ever did.
Shook and ached
When I started taking Seroxat, the patient information leaflet stated it was non-addictive, and caused minimal side-effects. I was told by my GP that Seroxat was a new, very safe, medication.
I started to feel lethargic, and frequently experienced "electric shocks", which caused me to visibly shudder. I felt detached from reality, and my ability to study was detrimentally effected, leading to the second year of my degree being postponed.
Over the course of the first year, I found I became accustomed to the new sensations, and the balance problem seemed to have improved (or numbed by the variety of new sensations I was experiencing). My weight started to increase quite dramatically - I used to be a county athlete, but was becoming seriously obese.
Two years into treatment with Seroxat, my GP decided it was time I stopped taking it. I tapered my dose of Seroxat down from 20mg to nothing over two weeks.
As soon as I started to reduce Seroxat, I felt constantly dizzy in a way I had never felt, was unable to keep liquids or food down, ached, shook, and had fit like spasms.
I needed help to sit up, get to the bathroom and feed myself. I had degree final exams to sit, and my GP reinstated Seroxat at 20mg, upon which I made a prompt recovery from these new symptoms, in time to sit my exams.
Sarah suffers symptoms if she forgets to take one tablet
Since that first attempt I have made two other attempts to withdraw from Seroxat, under medical guidance. The second attempt was so distressing, I took last year out of my career to focus solely on withdrawal. Even then I couldn't stop taking Seroxat.
I was taking Seroxat in liquid form using a syringe to accurately measure my dose, which I slowly tapered down each week. By the time I reached 12mg, my body was unable to cope.
The nausea had returned, accompanied by flu-sensations, fever, aches, blinding dizziness, exhaustion, spasms, fit-like electric shocks, disturbing nightmares and altered thoughts.
I was put back on a full dose of Seroxat and then placed on another medication which acts on the body very similarly to Seroxat, but this did not hold off the withdrawal symptoms.
I resigned myself to having to continue to take Seroxat, after being rushed to hospital and put back on Seroxat, diagnosed as addicted to Seroxat. The doctors in the hospital told me heroin would have been easier to wean myself off and recover from.
A year on, I am still exhausted, and have struggled to complete my training as a barrister, battling against the side-effects of continuing to take Seroxat. I am now twice the weight I was when I started taking Seroxat and live a life dictated by the medication.
Until I can stop taking Seroxat, and I live in hope, I will have to live with the daily problems of taking this drug:
I can't have children, because they would become addicted to Seroxat passing through the placenta and suffer severe withdrawal on birth.
I have to live with the long-term health problems associated with obesity. I have to battle through each day: even a 9-6 day at work, which, to everyone else is normal, is a challenge each day.
And, I can never forget to take a dose of Seroxat.
The last time I forgot to take one pill, I suffered the most distressing experience. By the afternoon my mood had altered noticeably and I was beginning to suffer electric shocks much more frequently than normal.
My temperature had risen and I was soon becoming overwhelmed by dizziness and a feeling of anxiety akin to terror. I had to get medical help and missed three days off work recovering.
Over the years more has become known about Seroxat. In my time on the Seroxat Users Group committee, I saw Seroxat banned in under 18 year olds, GSK issue a warning that 1 in four patients will suffer withdrawal problems, the patient information leaflet double in size and listed side-effects.
Meeting the regulator
Information also came to light indicating that GSK was aware of the problems with Seroxat before it even applied for a licence; problems such as healthy volunteers becoming addicted to Seroxat or suicidal upon taking it.
I was denied the right to make an informed choice and would never have taken Seroxat had I know what I do now. From my experiences, and talking to thousands of patients worldwide, I know that Seroxat has many more secrets, and firmly believe this drug is not safe for prescription to anyone.
Whilst Seroxat would seem to have had benefits for some, I believe these benefits do not compare and balance with the harm Seroxat can, and is proven to cause.
On behalf of Seroxat Users, I met with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, with a colleague.
We put to them the problems members of the group have experienced, but left the meeting disenchanted and feeling as if little more than lip-service had been paid to our concerns.
Having previously promised in writing to take a report from each member of the group on the problems they had experienced, the expert group then backed down on the promise, despite the group offering to organise logistics and independent examination of reports if resources were in short supply.
No further support is in place for Seroxat users, or those of any other drugs in the dangerous class of which Seroxat is a part.
On previous occasions Seroxat has been given the all clear and it is only because of unfaltering pressure from groups like Social Audit, learned doctors such as David Healy and a campaigning educated public that the regulator has finally acted.
It is clear to me that the regulators are pre-occupied with semantics and managing their own publicity, rather than public health, which I, and thousands of others let down by them, trusted them to safeguard.
Whilst we have a pharmaceutical industry regulated by former employees, with demonstrably appalling investigative and regulation skills, public health is at risk.