Recent studies have found that Cymbalta, a drug used to treat depression and chronic pain, can cause severe withdrawal symptoms when the medication is discontinued. Clinically referred to as “Cymbalta Discontinuation Syndrome”, symptoms of the condition include seizures, burning or itching skin, blurry vision and loss of balance (vertigo). Lawsuits allege that drug maker Eli Lilly & Co. misled consumers about the risk of Cymbalta Withdrawal, claiming that the side effect occurs in approximately 1% of patients, when the actual percentage of users who develop it is between 44% and 78%.
What is Cymbalta?
Cymbalta is a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) medication used to treat depression and anxiety. The drug may also be prescribed to help relieve nerve pain (peripheral neuropathy) in patients with diabetes or chronic pain due to arthritis or fibromyalgia. Cymbalta works by helping restore the balance of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.
Cymbalta Discontinuation Syndrome
Former Cymbalta users around the country who experienced severe withdrawal side effects after discounting the drug are now filing lawsuits seeking compensation for their injuries. An estimated 44% to 78% of patients who quit Cymbalta will suffer from withdrawal symptoms, yet the drug’s warning label suggests the risk is around 1%.
Withdrawal Symptoms List
- Blurry vision
- Hot and cold flashes
- “Brain zaps”
These symptoms are often so severe that patients must continue using Cymbalta simply to lessen the effects of the withdrawal. This results in a vicious cycle that can leave a person totally dependent on the drug.
What are Brain Zaps?
Brain zaps, a commonly reported symptom associated with Cymbalta withdrawal, are characterized by the feeling of violent impacts to all sides of the brain. These feelings are typically accompanied by intense headaches, dizziness and nausea. Omega 3 and acetylcholine supplements may help to minimize the severity of Cymbalta brain zaps.
The Cymbalta warning label states that symptoms of withdrawal “Occurred at a rate greater than or equal to 1%”. However, according to a 2005 article published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, Cymbalta withdrawal is much more frequent and severe.
In 6 double blind trials of Cymbalta conducted by Eli Lilly, about 44% of users reported experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Of these symptoms, 50.6% were deemed to be moderate while 9.6% were considered to be severe.
In another open-label trial involving 1,279 Cymbalta users, approximately 51% of patients experienced withdrawal symptoms. Of these, 46.3% were moderate and 17.2% were severe. The cumulative results of these studies indicate that about half of all Cymbalta users experience withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing treatment with the drug, rather than the 1% listed on the product’s labeling.
It is also worth noting that the data gathered during these trials was taken from “spontaneous reports” of symptoms (patients voluntarily reporting symptoms), and not from the more accurate “symptom checklist”, which would likely produce even higher rates of Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms.
How Long does Cymbalta Withdrawal Last?
The length of Cymbalta withdrawal can last for up to three months or more, but varies greatly from patient to patient. Symptoms can begin after the medication is discontinued or reduced, and last anywhere from a few days to several months. Withdrawal symptoms are typically less severe when the dosage is decreased slowly over time.
Eli Lilly’s History of Deceptive Marketing
The risks associated with using Cymbalta are listed on the drug’s labeling, but the frequency and severity of side effects have not been made clear to consumers. Eli Lilly’s marketing of Cymbalta has attracted the attention of federal health regulators before:
- In 2007, FDA penalized the company for unlawfully marketing Cymbalta through direct mailings. According to the agency, Lilly’s ads were “false or misleading [and] overstated the efficacy of Cymbalta” by suggesting results that had “not been demonstrated by substantial evidence of substantial clinical experience.” FDA also noted the company’s failure to reveal material facts including precautions relating to Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms.
- In 2009, Lilly was penalized again for illegally marketing Cymbalta by failing to disclose adequate risk information about potential side effects of the drug.
Eli Lilly has a documented history of misleading advertising that both overstates the efficacy of Cymbalta and downplays its risks. With the drug being aggressively marketed on multiple platforms, users have been exposed to marketing campaigns that may not have provided accurate facts regarding Cymbalta withdrawal.
Cymbalta Class Action Lawsuit
In October 2012, the first Cymbalta Class Action Lawsuit was filed against Eli Lilly & Co. in federal district court in California. The complaint, which was entered on behalf of plaintiffs in California, New York, Massachusetts and Missouri, alleges that Cymbalta causes an unreasonably large number of patients who attempt to stop taking it to experience sudden and severe withdrawal symptoms.Plaintiffs in the class action include:
- Melissa Strafford – Had to continue using Cymbalta because of the intense withdrawal symptoms. When she was finally able to taper off the drug, she continued to suffer for months.
- Jennifer Saavedra – Also had trouble discontinuing Cymbalta. She experienced brain zaps, full-body shaking and tunnel vision. It took Saavedra a full year to quit the drug.
- Carol Jacquez – Required 6 months to wean herself off Cymbalta and experienced severe withdrawal symptoms for several more months.
- David Matthews – Also experienced withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing Cymbalta.
The lawsuit is: Saavedra v. Eli Lilly and Company, Case No.: 2:12-cv-09366, (C.D.CA, 2012).