Warning issued after arthritis medication causes number of deaths

Doctors are urging patients to take more care after a common prescription drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and
Health

Doctors are urging patients to take more care after a common prescription drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease has been linked to a number of avoidable deaths.

Patients have been accidentally taking the wrong dose of the medication methotrexate, which has caused 22 deaths since 2000 and 91 cases of serious incorrect dosing.

The issue was only brought to light today, after researches revealed the dangers associated with incorrectly taking methotrexate.

The study was conducted by the NSW Poisons Information Centre (NSW PIC), which warned there were confusing factors associated with taking the pill.

“Every case is a potentially life threatening error,” said Dr Rose Cairns, lead researcher and senior poisons specialist at NSW PIC told Fairfax.

Methotrexate is commonly issued in packs of 50 tablets, which equates to a year’s supply of the drug that can be mistaken for daily prescription medications.

“It’s so easy to take too much. Patients confuse their weekly dose of methotrexate with their daily medications, and it only take three days for the effect to be lethal,” Dr Cairns said.

There are a number of reasons patients get confused when taking the pills, with people confusing them with folic acid or other tablets, as well as packaging errors at pharmacies, or patients misunderstanding instructions by a doctor or pharmacists, the study found.

“We don’t see this dosing error effect with any other prescription drug,” she said.

Daily dosing can suppress a patient’s bone marrow, reducing their immunity, leaving them susceptible to sepsis, gastrointestinal mucosal ulceration and death.

“It would be an extremely uncomfortable way to die, very nasty,” Dr Cairns said. “But the thing is these are avoidable deaths. If methotrexate is used a prescribed it’s considered safe.”

Increasing doctors’ worries was the revelation that there was “a worrying increase in methotrexate medication errors” between 2014 and 2015.

it is unclear what caused the sudden rise, but Dr Cairns warned the risk of accidental overdosing would continue to increase with the ageing population.

The study’s authors say the age of patients who died after taking incorrect doses ranged from 66 to 87, while the average age of those documented with serious incorrect dosing was 65.

Doctors are urging people to take care and to make sure any friends and family also taking the medication are aware of the dangers.

Have you ever been prescribed methotrexate? Do you know anyone who has taken this pill?

  1. Pat Zammit  

    What is methotrexate does it have a common or generic name

    • Debra Broughton  

      It’s known as ruther Methotrexate or Methoblastin. I have the injections just once a week like the tablet so this saves any confusion. I use Methotrexate for Sarcoidois not arthritis. I guess l can see where a certain part of our community can make a mistake. As it’s only taken once a week at the same time I didn’t keep it with my daily meds.

    • Scott  

      Some call it MTX. It is a Toxicty medication.

      • Methotrexate is a real mild form of chemotherapy… It’s used to suppress the immune system… RA is nothing nice and methotrexate along with other meds called a cocktail can put us in remission… It’s also a life saver when taken correctly .
        There is no resemblance to folic acid. FA is yellow mtx is smaller and orange.

        • Erica  

          My MTX and folic acid are remarkably similar, both small and yellow. I can tell that the Folic acid is slightly darker yellow, but only very subtly, and I can see how older people or people with not the same level of vision can confuse them.

    • Cindy  

      Its also a chemo drug but obviously on a smaller dose for arthritis. I couldnt take the tablets they almost killed me but injection much easier to take.

  2. Jeanette Passfield  

    I take it in the uk but we are only given 1 months at a time. I would of thought any drug given a years supply at a time would of been dangerous. Jeanette

    • Molly  

      I agree – prescribing anything other than a months supply at a time is foolish.

  3. Deirdre. Barradeen  

    I take 3 tablets once a week. So far I have had no problems

  4. Margaret Hannon  

    I was on methotrexate for 2 years. I have my medication in a Webster pack
    from the pharmacy. I have Systemic Scleroderma, Fibromyalga and Osteoarthritis.
    I am 64. I was taken off methotrexate as it did something to my liver.

  5. Yes, I was prescribed methotrexate for psoriatic arthritis – 6 tablets a day (2009). I was suffering serious pain with this arthritis, physically affected and felt I would be in a wheelchair before taking this treatment. It took some time for the drug to be effective and then I felt like a new person. I was on that drug for around four years, 6 tablets a day. I did find myself being very tired. Moving to a new centre and under a new specialist and discussing my tiredness, I was taken off methotrexate and prescribed sulfasalzine. I feel fine with only the odd twinge now. I still have very vivid memories of the initial pain and disabilities when my condition was developing.

    • Barbara Lawley  

      Are you sure you were prescribed 6 tablets a DAY. I have been taking Methotrexate for 5 years treating me for Fibromyalgia but my prescription is for 6 tablets a Week preceded by Folic Acid 2 days before. 6 a day seems very excessive.

    • Carol  

      You should take a look at the website psoriasisclub.org, a patients community.

  6. Chris  

    This is a serious drug and I wouldn’t take it. My mother died of methacryxate poisoning. She was taking the correct dose. She developed a slight irritation in the throat and within a couple of weeks was dead. Read the indications pamphlet for this drug
    You won’t want to take it!!!!

  7. Yes, I was prescribed methotrexate for psoriatic arthritis – 6 tablets a day (2009). I was suffering serious pain with this arthritis, physically affected and felt I would be in a wheelchair before taking this treatment. It took some time for the drug to be effective and then I felt like a new person. I was on that drug for around four years, 6 tablets a day. I did find myself being very tired. Moving to a new centre and under a new specialist and discussing my tiredness, I was taken off methotrexate and prescribed sulfasalzine. I feel fine with only the odd twinge now. I still have very vivid memories of the initial pain and disabilities when my condition was developing.

    • Danielle  

      I think you have confused this with another drug, methotrexate is ONLY to be taken ONCE a week, not daily

  8. arion andrews  

    I was on methotrexate but was taken off it before I had heart surgery and I refused to go back on it because it didn`t ease my arthritis and I heard of it`s dangers I deal with my pain myself and take nothing at this stage I was on it for a long while I also had gold injections and doctors tried another drug as well but prior to this I was on prednisone and I would definitely not recommend this to anyone

    • kay  

      My cousin Diane died from getting gold injections. Please be caref.

  9. Katrinia Rindsberg  

    I was on it for a couple of years, but I had the auto pen that you use once a week, so no mistakes could be made. Didn’t do much for me, I am on sulfasalazine and avara now instead, which work really well. I have psoriatic arthritis, lupus and fibromyalgia.

  10. Danielle  

    I was on it about 12 years ago, I remember feeling sick a lot! I took myself off as I was so sick of feeling poisoned !

  11. Methotrexate is also given to cancer patients, I have 2 forms of arthritis osteo+psioratic, have also at one time taken vioxx ,and diclafenic both have side effects , I take take Methotrexate 7 tablets ONCE weekly, folic acid on different day, find some of comments strange taking DAILY methotrexate as highly toxic, can give bad side effects ,made a huge difference to me,I have regular blood tests,and only prescribed month at a time, this article could scare some, but like any drug not suitable for all

  12. BARBARA Batten  

    I have been on Methotrexate (Methoblastin) 15 mgs Wekly been great no pain from Rheumatoid Arthitis, in my hands, Been on it 17 months, Have my blood checked every two / Three months , all good, see my rheumatologist every 6 months , only side effect sometimes is a few mouth ulcers occasionally, so I would say to anyone who has constant pain give it a go, it takes around 6 weeks to take effect , but well worth it

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