In May 2017 Pharmac stopped subsiding the medication I had been taking for a decade. It changed the subsidy for Effexor-XR and Arrow-Venlafaxine-XR to a generic brand called Enlafax.
I am now aware of a lot of people, including myself, who have experienced severe adverse reactions to this change in brand of medication. My experience with the brand change can be read here.
My personal experience had made me wonder how many other people may have been affected. I tried to find out as much information as I could. My main concerns about this were the lack of information provided before the change occurred. I was told the medication had changed when I picked up my prescription from the Pharmacy, I asked if it would work the same and was told it would, I didn’t think any more of it until I was at rock bottom and wondering what was going on.
Other people I have messaged with recently have said similar things, some were not told about the change in brand of medication, some people who raised concerns with their doctor have been told there could not possibly be a difference in the medication and had the dose of Enlafax increased.
For those of us who could not tolerate Enlafax the options we had were to stay on it and put up with the symptoms, to pay for the medication we had previously been on, to try a different type of medication, or stop the medication.
Trying to find out what would happen with the availability of Effexor-XR after September 2017 was near impossible. Some people said it would be phased out here in New Zealand and we would no longer be able to access it, this caused a lot of stress. Particularly as after having had such a terrible experience with Enlafax, the thought of potentially going through this again was awful. I contacted Pfizer directly to find out if we would still be able to get the Effexor-XR here. Pfizer were not aware the subsidy was being removed when I spoke to them, but they said it would still be available in New Zealand.
I contacted Pharmac via email a few times trying to find out more information and to see if there was any funding available for people who could not tolerate Enlafax so they could continue with their original medication.
Pharmac did answer the questions I asked via email, however they continue to stand by the claims “the new brand of medication is just as safe and works exactly the same as the old brand. They shouldn’t notice any difference in how it affects them.” Also saying “Enlafax XR has been thoroughly evaluated by Medsafe to ensure it’s safe and works the same as the other brands.”
I was majorly affected by the change in brand of medication, I ended up in hospital multiple times shortly after this change in medication. To be constantly told that Enlafax is “safe”, “effective”, and works “the same” as Effexor-XR makes me feel disempowered.
In the email responses Pharmac say “they take my concerns seriously”, on the other hand the say Enlafax is “safe”, “effective”, and works “the same” therefore contradicting themselves. The responses from Pharmac have made me feel invalidated and they don’t seem to care about those of us who have been seriously affected by this.
There did not seem to be anything in place for those of us affected by the changeover in terms of support or follow-up. It was a very frustrating process, for me I only got support following two significant overdoses a week apart. I was advised during my first admission that a plan would be put in place when I was discharged for some support from Mental Health Services, however this did not occur and I when I was sent home nothing had changed for me and I was still in a very bad place mentally. A few days later I took another overdose and was readmitted to the hospital. A week or so later I remained quite unwell, I was not in a position to go home by myself and manage. The doctor tried to dissuade me from being admitted to the mental health ward and listed the reasons it was a bad idea.
Around three weeks ago I came across a petition started by Helen Leggatt on Change.org called NZ Government penny-pinching risking lives and mental health which is calling on Health Minister David Clark and Medsafe to take action as removing the subsidy had adversely affected thousands of New Zealanders with mental health issues. On March 9 it had nearly 2500 signatures.
I intend to follow-up with Pharmac on this particular issue in the near future. Too many people have been badly affected by this change over and I can’t sit back and do nothing.
I am certain there will be a lot more people out there who are having trouble with this changeover and have either not realised the cause, or been fobbed off when they raised concerns – it is not good enough.
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