The doctor who has 'given up drugs'...what did people think?

Hi...I've just watched the programme on BBC1 with Dr Chris Val Tulleken who was trying to look at alternative ways to prescribing drugs particularly painkillers, antidepressants and antibiotics. One of the patients, Wendy, had chronic pain in her shoulder, and was taking a cocktail of painkillers each day for 20 years. The doctor then gave a a mixture of real and placebo tests over a few weeks and Wendy was to record her pain. It turned out that she's been gradually taken off the painkillers but her subjective measure of the pain didn't match what she'd actually been taking for the period of the experiment. The doctor thought that exercise is the best treatment for pain 'even a headache' he said. I'm sure this does help in many cases but I know that strong painkillers have helped my migraines. I think you have to look at each case individually rather than making a one size fits all. Some people definitely need painkillers some of the time in my view.

40 Replies

  • I watched it too I've been on strong painkillers for 4 years now as I have chronic back pain and nerve damage in my legs. I have tried to come off my meds but ended up in hospital. So like you say some people do need them and we all have difference things wrong with us. To me it was like he was saying the pain not real. Think we all would like to be meds and pain free.

    Take care all Linda xx

  • Yes I thought he was a bit too flippant about it, Linda. I see what he's trying to do and why he's doing it but drinking a glass of water for a headache? It's never worked for me! I'm not saying that painkillers always work for me but I think you've got to take a balanced approach and e.g. use painkillers when you really need them rather than being all or nothing. Addiction isn't inevitable. xx

  • i have been in chronic pain for years, hated taking pain relief, suffered severly so i couldn't function. it has had a severe impact and im not severly worse and basically bedridden. so a sometines approach isnt the answer. im now on a cocktail of drugs and will be the rest of my life, cant undo the damage

  • Hi everyone hope things are sort of OK with you, yes I watched it I mus say I have several problem with my health. At the moment my doctors are trying to get me off my Nitrazepam at night as they say quote" your on a shit load of pills already" unquote! I have taken these pills every night for 22 yrs & now they want me off. They have had plenty of time to do that & I know as they must that they are addictive , cutting me down to 1 1/2 or2 when I need them. I have told them I can't do it but trying by just taking 1 per night now & not sleeping well with pain from everywhere.

    My back pain at the mo is ....they tried Gabapentin" gave me weird thoughts" came off them so tried pregablin" thought I was dying so much pain off them now & don't now what else to do. The problem being they gave me the pills in the first place & now are moaning about it..".. I say if you need them take the pills water won't stop a migraine.😒🙄😣

  • Sorry to hear, Lala. Yes reducing pills is the hardest thing. It needs to be done gradually but also you mustn't beat yourself up if it is too much. You can always try again another time. If you've been taking them that long you might need to do it much more gradually.

    As for taking water to get rid of a's never worked for me! It would only work if your headache was caused by dehydration so I thought that was a tad irresponsible of him!

  • You would be surprised how many headaches are the result of dehydration


  • We are all individuals and you are right one size doesn't fit all. Trouble is I think doctors forget this. Not just for pain but other drugs too.

  • Exactly Hebden. I think he needed to take a more balanced approach. He spoke as if plunging people into cold water is good for everyone with anxiety attacks! It would be the worst of all treatments for me.. I can't tolerate cold at all.

  • I haven't seen the programme yet, but that bit sounds very Victorian!!

  • Yes it does a bit! It seemed to work and there seemed to be some scientific basis for it, but it would not work for me at all!

  • Some years ago I told an osteopath who was treating me about some hydrotherapy treatments I'd been reading about. One was being wrapped in a sheet wrung out in cold water, then you were swathed in blankets and left lying down. I think this was for pain.

    The osteopath said: Yes, I could do that for you. He was quite serious! Needless to say, I didn't take him up on it :-)

    I also remember seeing a programme about the treatments at Malvern Spa in the 1800s. One of them was to stand under a drenching stream of cold water....!

  • Oh no!! In the instance last night this was to help someone with anxiety and depression because the cold mimicked an anxiety attack and afterwards you're supposed to feel exhilarated and the girl said she did! But then she did like swimming before becoming depressed anyway. I would say, yes, that might be one option for some people some of the time but the doctor didn't present it like that. He seems to be suggesting it was good for everyone, at least that was my take on it!

  • It sounds sadistic. Though swimming would help with low mood, of course.

  • Yes, I think the swimming for low mood was part of it. But the icy water was also a key part of it too! It was all supervised and the doctor did it himself but I think in some cases it could be dangerous. Some people having watched that programme may go out and plunge themselves in cold water thinking it will get rid of their anxiety.

  • Me neither Foggy/Moggy (love the name) I wouldn't be able to move for a week if I went in cold water. Going by the clip I saw for the next one the girl he got to plunge in ice cold water looked in a terrible way when he visits her again. She has been on anti depressants for a long time and I know from experience how hard it is to come off of them. I pray the outcome is good for her.

  • Thanks hebden, glad you like the name :)

    But yes, I saw the clip for the next one and saw the girl in tears and she didn't look in a good way. So obviously just taking a plunge in icy water isn't the answer. I think more importantly it's finding hobbies and interests that enthuse you that's the key. She was interested in swimming before her depression so clearly swimming is going to make her feel good again. It would be interesting to see if she'd felt the same or even better if she'd swum in water at a normal temperature. I think it would have had the same benefits myself.

  • Hi

    Before I was diag with fibro I was suffering from chronic migraines and was laid up for weeks at a time.

    I had no help from Drs and eventually went to Migraine clinic in London and paid privately for their help.

    I told them my history of migraines and other illnesses and ops etc. I even told him of my trouble swollowing and pains in my feet, toes, arms, hands and fingers. He suggested I come off of all meds and over the counter pain killers for 3 months. He told me research said I would then find my heads would lessen and eventually go.

    I thought it was worth a try, so,went home and did what he said to the letter. I was in hell and stayed with it for 6 months, I don't give up. Eventually though the pain and the amount of time I was laid up was rediculous. I went to my GP and got some migraine tabs, different from ones before. My heads started to ease and then get less.

    The thing is I still get them, but now I know why I get so many, it's connected to my fibro. Symptoms like the pains in feet etc, which Drs ignored, suggested fibro. If only someone had picked up on this I could have saved myself six months of hell.

    I'm not on meds for fibro, only because I rested badly to them and am allergic to codine, morphine etc. I am on antidepressants for my mood and they have helped. I now try to control my pain with vits, herbal tabs, gentle exercise, massage etc. It's a constant fight, but I still need my meds for my migraines.

    Coming off of tabs for some may be the answer, but as everything in life it's not the answer for us all.

    Thanks for interesting post.

    Take care and best wishes.

  • wow fibropop thats bad, glad you got sorted, still an ongoing battle but at least someone finally listened.

    hugs xx

  • Hi Fibropop, yes, I totally agree with you. I need the meds for my migraines. They don't always work but when I take Sumitryptan they nearly always work. I think there was only one time it didn't. I also get headaches as well as migraines and sometimes they start off as headaches and become migraines! I try and save the Sumitryptan for the really rough ones! I think this doctor was probably trying to say that some people don't need so many meds and in the case of the woman they featured with the painful shoulder and back, she was taking a large amount every day and so the amounts she was taking had probably ceased to work. The doctor tried to get her to do exercises instead (while withdrawing her medication gradually) although she wasn't aware when she was taking meds or when a placebo. In her case, it helped. So there's probably an argument for it for some people some of the time. But my worry is that if other doctors start to take this approach then people who really need painkillers could have a fight on their hands. This doctor isn't actually a GP anyway and he did sit in on a GP and realised how difficult it was trying to cut down on the amount of prescriptions, particularly antibiotics.

    Yes I take a small dose of antidepressants that really helped my anxiety. I may try and have a period off them as they may be causing me bad sweats but that may be the menopause! It's a minefield, isn't it? And a trade-off. Gentle hugs. x

  • Hello

    I agree with you, I too take sumatriptan for my migraines, they are the only ones that work.

    I agree that sometimes people do take too many pain killers and as you say they stop having any effect. Like you, I'm worried that people will be taken off of pain meds when they actually help them. Let's hope not!

    Take care and have a good evening. 👍😊

  • Thanks Fibropop. You too :)

  • FoggyMoggy ,I must say I totally agree with you.There are days when I don't think I could get by without them.Also need meds for my depression and anxiety as well.I think Dr's are trying to give the least amount of meds as possible due to abuse.Peck🐤

  • Thanks Peck. Yes, I also take a low dose of antidepressants for anxiety which have helped though one GP said it may be responsible for my sweats! So thought I may try and have a period without them to see if that helps. Then again it may be the menopause! Take care x

  • Must admit that I missed this, I shall have to watch it on catch up :)

  • Yes, it's worth a watch, Ken. I think it carries on next week too!

  • Yes, watched it now and it was very interesting. I think there are arguments for both sides in this but perosnally when I am in pain I want something for it.

  • Yes, I agree!

  • I think balanced is the operative word. I take pain killers too, but think that my physio exercises and tai chi help. As to headaches I can sometimes deal with them by the old fashioned lying down in a darkened room. However that's not always an option.

  • Firstly there is certainly a need for prescribed medication when other avenues are dismissed. Therein lies the problem, it was clear from the programme that Drs do not have the time nor the training to suggest other remedies, it is easier to reach for the pad and prescribe. I do believe we all need to take as much responsibility for our health as we can and look to see what we can do to help ourselves. I know what it is like to have chronic persistent pain, my back and legs in particular, but I do find exercise helps and I know how easy it is to get into a mindset of forgetting or not bothering. I completely agreed with Dr Chris that so many drugs do more harm than good which is why I avoid them like the plague unless I am forced to. What I am trying to say is look at every avenue, research alternative sources, diet, vitamins, exercise, Mindfulness meditation, before giving in to the big Pharma. It is so easy to get into a dependent state when we can think for ourselves. Please do not take this as unsympathetic, life can have many complications I know this but sometimes as Dr Chris emphasised we can find other remedies rather than killing ourselves with toxic overload.

  • I agree about a balanced approach, Joyia, and also that in some cases, like the woman Wendy in the programme, taking that many drugs can be counterproductive and harmful. She would need to take more and more CoCodamol for it to be effective, codeine being addictive.

    But as with so many things these are two polar opposites - all or nothing. Many of us take meds responsibly and/or reluctantly, alongside alternative therapies, supplements, exercises etc rather than an either/or scenario. His view has a place and it's good to highlight e.g. the overuse of antibiotics, the damage to livers and kidneys from excessive use of OTC painkillers. But I think they all have their place. His approach was a bit like the AA/NA approach to addiction i.e. that people either have an all or nothing approach to medication and no entertaining the shades of grey in between. In the case of Wendy, the woman in the programme, that many have been the best approach. But I think his approach was bit over-simplistic. As I say, that will work for some of the people some of the time. But it needs to be balanced with a common sense, practical approach rather than an evangelical one.

  • Well said Joyia.

  • I agree Joyia. Other things should be tried before medication as sometimes the problem could be a simple case of low vitamins or minerals but toxic meds are given and cause other problems. Vicious circle. Not always the case I may state but this never seems to be checked out before meds are prescribed. However Doctors, as you say, neither have the time nor training to find out exactly what the problem is. It seems they only have time to treat the symptom and not the cause. Hence the prescription pad comes out straight away. Also some patients (like several in the programme) expect to come out with a prescription or they feel the doctor hasn't helped them. The other problem is the patient doesn't always have the finances to investigate things for themselves. I saved for 6 months to get a simple blood test done privately because the NHS Lab refused to do this. So for 6 months I have had a condition that could have been sorted out quite easily and with less pain (I have enough pain with fibro and osteoarthritis but this added to it). This is the only way I could get to the bottom of a particular problem I have and now I have this blood result I can do something about it myself without meds. I only wish my GP would listen.

  • I found the program very interesting, and I do understand that some people do take lots of prescription medication. My late cousin was only twenty six when she began taking antidepressants for post natal depression, forty years later she was still taking them. It didn't seem that any doctor had tried to wean her off of them. She was 69 when she died after an aneurism following electro convulsive therapy for severe depression. She'd still been on antidepressants! So did they help her, no I don't think they did!

    Painkillers can cause rebound headaches if they are taken for too long. So the tablets themselves cause headaches, the very thing they are taken to cure.

    I suppose I am saying we all need to be responsible about our own medicines and try not to take anything in excess. If we are worried that we are on a lot of pills we can ask for a review of our medicines. I believe some pharmacists are offering this service?

    I shall watch the second part of this program with interest.


  • Yes too many painkillers can cause rebound headaches. I think everything in moderation is a good maxim, but of course, there'll be individual variation.

  • I do think there is one aspect of any drug using that needs to be addressed and unfortunately too often isn't and that of course is addiction. Those with addictive personalities, and there are more around than often realised, can resort to prescribed medication as a means of coping. It doesn't matter whether it is cocaine, heroin, food, alcohol, pharma medications, the underlying issue of co-dependence is not being treated. Just leaving off a substance of choice is only the beginning of a journey when the underlying issues need to be faced and yes AA/NA does have it's place in healing. I suspect Dr. Chris is aware of this as opposed to many GP's that are not, I can understand why he is trying to raise awareness, sadly I think he may be up a creek without a paddle as far as educating many of his counter-parts, but still his thought provoking must be worthwhile as some who need to realise may just do that with his help. In no way am I taking away the right to medication when it is genuinely needed and other options have been followed up which is my very real gripe with the medical profession.

  • Yes, it is always a balance, as I've said in previous posts. I think because there's a prevailing culture of over-prescribing that Dr Chris is taking the other extreme. Raising awareness is good as long as it's done responsibly. I'm not so sure he was myself.

    As for addiction, I used to work in this field for many years and of course it's very complex. It's a view but not a fact that there are 'addictive personalities' which is very much an AA/NA view. But of course there's the type of drug, the length of time someone has been taking a drug, there's the kind of withdrawal symptoms, both physical and psychological.

  • I do have painkillers etc to help with my Fibro. I know I can't do without them as I have been to sleep for 16 hours and not taken tablets as couldn't get out of bed. I am in agony and feel even worse than when I needed the sleep.

    I have a couple of hours walk a day with my pups and have enterprise making dog treats and making the pouches and doing stationery. So I do keep busy but the only problem being is that I think I do much and don't have my nap which is pretty tuff. Apart from that I am fine hahaha x

  • Sounds like you're doing all you can, Purplegoth, and not giving into it! x

  • That's right not giving in is so important along with pacing, well done all those that are trying.

  • I've seen the programme now. I don't think that wild swimming is for me, exhilarating though it might be!!

    I agree that it was all too sweeping, though antibiotic resistance is a huge issue. But I could also see the point that the GP made about prescribing them. It was quite balanced in that way, but in one hour they were never going to cover everything.

    As for anti-depressants, my mother took them for at least forty years, and the situation was never reviewed, so I'm not sure what to make of that.

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