Painkiller controversy goes to the top
Analgesic is potentially fatal for certain expat groups - including Britons
CAMPAIGNERS hope powerful Spanish medicine licensing body AEMPS will act to prevent the commonly used analgesic metamizole being taken by certain expat groups because of poten- tially fatal side effects.
People of Anglo Saxon and Scandinavian heritage taking the pain-killer are at increased risk of developing agranulocytosis – a sudden plunge in numbers of disease-busting white blood cells – which can trigger a highly-dangerous sepsis.
Medical translator Cristina Garcia del Campo (see photo) took up the fight to protect the two ‘at risk’ groups after the death of a client and friend last year – and began research amongst the people she helps on the Marina Alta, discovering a problem with a drug seen as very safe in Spain but banned in the UK, USA, Sweden and other north European countries.
She prompted Marina Salúd – the area’s health authority – to issue an alert warning doctors about the dangers of metamizole, a generic name, and advising the consideration of a substitute.
And now Cristina – already being called the ‘Erin Brockovich of Jávea’ after the famed American campaigning activist – has been invited to put her case to the Agencia Española de Medicamentos y Productos Sanitarios (AEMPS); the regulatory body which advises the Ministry of Health.
She expects to travel to Madrid to give evidence to a meeting of AEMPS later this month and hopes to persuade the regulator for medicines and health products to act and hopes more expats will share their experiences of any side effects before a critical presentation.
Marina Salúd is already investigating 100,000 cases involving the use of the drug and recorded illnesses or fatalities over the last five years.
In a statement issued last month, it said: “Marina Salúd is aware of the precautions in the United States, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia regarding the administration of the generic medicine metamizole, and being aware of the elevated percentage of British and Scandinavian residents in the Marina Alta, a warning has been created – not a prohibition – to make available, if preferred, the administration of another common analgesic to this group of people as a substitute to metamizole.”
Metamizole has a number of brand names. In Spain, it is commonly available as Nolotil, but the names include: Dipryone, Analgin, Novalgin, and Dipirona – and is seen as effective and safe.
Cristina said the medicine was seen in Spain as a ‘go to’ drug. “Most Spanish homes will have it in the medicine cupboard.”
She has attempted to contact health authorities and hospitals across Spain; some medical practitioners were “horrified” and others knew of the risk – but her mission was to raise awareness of the danger with all medical practitioners.
“We have to target the whole of Spain; hospitals, doctors and chemists. That is why I need people to tell me where they were prescribed it,” added Cristina.
“Sometimes I feel I am hitting my head against a brick wall and really need help. So far, we have done well in making people in some areas aware of the problem – I have a map of Spain and mark locations off.
“People have written to me and say their husbands, wives, sons and daughters have been given it but they have not taken it (because of the publicity)... a lot of lives might have been saved because of this raised awareness.”
However, Cristina believes any action by AEMPS was crucial and the authority would be helped in taking any action by as many stories as she could submit as evidence.
“It is the highest authority in the land and directly comes under the ministry of health; they are the only ones who decide what medicine they authorise or not, or they ban. They have the power; there is nothing higher than them.”
After six months of research and writing to the medical world across Spain, she is determined to keep fighting to protect people. “I will not give up.”
Cristina added, “If I miss this opportunity with AEMPS, there will not be any other opportunities because there is no one higher; this is as high as it gets.
“Some people think it is just people from Britain and Scandinavia making a noise because they do not have it in their countries and because in Spain it is seen as very safe, nothing safer than this medicine.
“I want AEMPS to ban it; to take steps to keep everyone safe. Otherwise you can never be sure you will not be given it.”
Anyone wishing to provide details of their own experiences with the drug is asked to contact Cristina via Facebook at www.facebook.com/CristinaResearch-Information or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Denia Hospital issued a warning
Metamizole is the component of frequently prescribed painkiller Nolotil