Medsafe is reinforcing its advice about lamotrigine, a medicine taken for epilepsy and bipolar disorder, following the reporting of an additional death today.
Medsafe Group Manager Chris James says sadly there have now been five deaths in individuals who may have been taking lamotrigine when they died and who may have been affected by switching brands of medicine.
Mr James says the key advice to anyone taking anti-epilepsy medication is to keep taking it and if they have concerns to talk to their doctor.
PHARMAC has widened its exemption policy so patients can stay on the same brand of lamotrigine they were originally taking.
Expert advice provided to Medsafe is anyone taking lamotrigine, particularly with hard-to-treat epilepsy, and who is stable on a certain brand of lamotrigine, should ideally stay on that brand.
Information from PHARMAC is that 90 percent of people taking lamotrigine have already switched to Logem.
Anyone concerned about their anti-epilepsy medicine should talk to their health practitioner or Healthline.
Today, Medsafe was advised by CARM – the Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring - of a fifth death involving a person taking lamotrigine.
Medsafe recognises that will be a very difficult time for the family of those individuals – particularly at this time of year.
Mr James says sadly, it is well known that people with epilepsy have a significant health condition which can increase their risk of dying from sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP).
In New Zealand around 40 people with epilepsy die from SUDEP each year and we also don’t know, and may never definitively know what role, if any, switching brands plays.
As part of the brand switch, Medsafe is providing regular updates to PHARMAC about information reported to CARM, about any reports of harm linked to the medicine.
Any additional cases that may be linked to a brand switch will be assessed by a specialist committee, the Medicines Adverse Reactions Committee, and their discussions are published in the minutes on the Medsafe website.
Logem, a brand of lamotrigine, is approved by Medsafe for use in New Zealand. It is assessed as being as safe and effective as other similar medicines and is used widely overseas, including in Australia, Canada, Germany, UK, Spain, France and the Netherlands.