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Advice to discontinue medication

Mental Health Commissioner Kevin Allan today released a report finding a provider of alternative health services in breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights (the Code) for advising a man with an anxiety disorder to stop taking his medication.

At the time of these events, the man had been taking an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication for 11 years. He consulted with the provider on 44 occasions. At one of these appointments the provider advised the man to consider stopping the medication "cold turkey". The man began tapering off the medication and stopped taking it entirely within five weeks. The man said that after he stopped taking the medication his nervous system became destabilised, and both his mental and physical capabilities were impaired significantly.

The information sheet for the medication warns people not to suddenly stop taking it or lower the dose if they have been taking it for some time. If they do so, their condition may worsen and they may experience a number of unwanted side effects including insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, confusion and agitation. It also advises people to obtain the help of a doctor if they decide to taper off the medication.

Mr Allan noted that the provider was not a medical doctor, had no authority to make prescriptions, and had no recognised expertise in providing advice on medication to health consumers. Mr Allan considered that the advice provided to the man regarding stopping the medication put him at risk of developing discontinuation syndrome and a number of side effects.

"All healthcare providers, including alternative healthcare providers, are obliged to recognise the limits of their expertise when providing care," Mr Allan said. He found that the alternative health care provider did not minimise the potential harm to the man and therefore breached the Code.

He recommended that the provider apologise to the man, reflect on his failure to minimise the potential harm to the man, and provide a report to HDC on his reflections and the changes he has made to his practice following this case.

The full report for case 18HDC00423 is available on the HDC website.


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