Wellbutrin, which is the brand name for the pharmaceutical Bupropion, is an effective antidepressant on its own but, it is also prescribed as an add-on medication in cases where a first-line SSRI antidepressant, such as Celexa or Paxil, isn’t enough for the patient who suffers from severe depression. Where an SSRI works on serotonin levels, Bupropion affects dopamine; therefore the two can be taken together.
Besides a treatment for depression, Wellbutrin is also a popular smoking cessation drug, marketed under the name Zyban, which can be bought over the counter without a prescription.
Canada and Wellbutrin Abuse
The drug is also one of Canada’s most popular and easily accessible prescription drugs; it can be bought on the streets for $2.50 per pill.
And why has it become a street drug?
People who abuse Wellbutrin say it gives them a ‘high’ much like that they achieve from crack – and at a much cheaper price.
In fact, it’s being referred to it as the “poor man’s cocaine.”
Wellbutrin comes in pill form and contains binding agents that make it easy to swallow. These agents are harmless when the pill is taken as it should be – by mouth – not when it’s crushed and inhaled or injected with a syringe, which is how users do the drug.
And there’s more than enough proof of this. Toronto’s The Works Needle Exchange and Harm Reduction Supplies has seen a steady rise in skin abscesses, collapsed veins and clogged arteries due to Zyban and Wellbutrin being injected for a ‘high.’
Toronto Public Health physician Dr. Leah Steele told Global News, “I’m very worried about Wellbutrin right now; [it’s not] on the radar of most physicians.”
It’s currently estimated that approximately half of Toronto’s IV drug users have tried injecting Wellbutrin. Steele estimates that, out of 75 patients on The Works’ methadone program, half have tried injecting Wellbutrin. Another concern is that the drug is readily available in the prison system.
Dr. Dan Cass, Ontario’s Chief Coroner, is also worried. He issued a warning about Wellbutrin in May of last year after he attributed at least six deaths to Wellbutrin abuse.
Cass also spoke with Global News, “We’re aware of cases where the injection of the drug and the damage to the tissue from that injection is what directly lead to the death. One of the properties when it’s ground up and injected is it’s very caustic, so it tends to do a lot of damage to issues and to some of the deeper structures.”
Cass went on to relate a particularly gruesome case. “One death in particular involved an injection into a blood vessel in the neck,” adding that “the subsequent damage to the tissue cased damage to the spinal cord and [the individual] bled to death.”
Like Steele, Cass sees the importance of warning physicians about the abuse potential for Wellbutrin and Zyban. As it stands now, medical literature states that Bupropion is “non-abusable.”
“These wounds from Wellbutrin are different because they really erode the whole tissue around the injection area,” Steele said. The wounds can get “very invasive infections,” which can lead to death.
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