As I sit on the couch in the cozy living room of my home, I hear a man’s low voice singing opera. It’s just far off enough that I can’t make out the lyrics. I also heard it last night while lying in bed.

What I’m hearing isn’t really there. It’s just the spirits in my head.

More than two decades ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder following a brief stay in the psychiatric ward of a hospital in the Hudson Valley. That involuntary hospitalization came at the beginning of what should have been my last semester in college. I was paranoid and delusional, imagining that a cult that was out to get me.

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At the time, I believed I was having a spiritual awakening. Some of it was, in fact, spiritual. But I was also hearing and seeing things that weren’t there.

It took years for my psychiatrist and me to find a medication that quieted the spirits in my head yet left me capable of not just functioning but excelling in my career as a publicist, socializing with friends, and carrying on a pretty normal life. Many people with bipolar disorder aren’t so fortunate — unable to work because of their symptoms and dependent on Social Security disability insurance.

Before arriving at the pills that have saved me, we tried a number of medications that didn’t let me live a comfortable and productive life. One made me unable to discern very hot water from very cold water. Another made me so tired I routinely overslept and had to make excuses for coming to work late. I worried that if I told my boss the truth, the stigma of mental illness would damage my career.

The magic medicine was 1.5 milligrams of a drug called haloperidol, taken once a day in the evening. Discovered in 1958, the medication is seen by many as an “old school” outdated antipsychotic associated with the barred windows and dim hallways of decades-old psychiatric hospitals. Yet haloperidol offers some of us facing mental illness exactly the amount of quiet we need to get by.

In fact, author Esmé Weijun Wang shares in her bestselling book “The Collected Schizophrenias” that she has treated her diagnosed schizoaffective disorder with haloperidol.

A few years ago, when I temporarily parted ways with my longtime psychiatrist due to insufficient health insurance, I came across a written description of schizoaffective disorder. It sounded like me. I suggested to the nurse who was prescribing my medication at the time that I might fall under that diagnosis, rather than bipolar disorder. She agreed that it sounded like a potential match, but I later let go of my desire to further define what it was that caused my symptoms. A definition would not help me. But haloperidol did.

One-and-a-half milligrams of haloperidol — a single 1-milligram pill and half of another — taken once a day doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for my mental health. But in December 2018, my local pharmacy informed me of a shortage of the 1-milligram pills and said they were “back ordered” with the supplier. I went to another pharmacy, this one a large chain, to have my prescription filled. Then it, too, ran out. In some fancy footwork, my psychiatrist next prescribed me three .5-milligram tablets and my supply was replenished. Then those were gone. I finally discovered that a local Walmart had stockpiled some of the 1-milligram pills, so we moved my prescription there.

I phoned the company that made my haloperidol to try to find out more, but there was no information available. I was only told that the shortage, which was supposed to end in March, would go on until April. In April it became May. The FDA’s drug shortages database now lists all dosages of haloperidol tablets as “Currently out of stock; Estimated re-supply: June 2019,” with the reason for the shortage given as “Other.”

Each mysterious delay has planted a seed of fear in my heart. At age 47, I have depended on these pills for most of my adult life. They are my secondary oxygen. In quieting my demons they have permitted me to live what you might call a normal existence. I find it hard to imagine what life would be like without them. Each night as I peer into my pill bottle, watching the number of tablets dwindle, I worry about what will come as the spirits in my head keep singing.

Walmart has now run out of haloperidol, so my psychiatrist and I are trying to track down a liquid form of the medication in a 2-milligram dosage. If that isn’t available, my doctor will certainly find an alternative for me. But at what cost? What will the side effects be? I am comfortable with haloperidol. It is part of my routine. I know where the medicine ends and I begin.

I’m surely not alone. Sometimes I wonder about other people like me who are watching their haloperidol bottles grow empty, uncertain of what the future will bring, or what those who weren’t able to track down a pharmacy with a large supply of haloperidol have done.

Much as I don’t want to, I must face the fact that I might run out of haloperidol before it comes back on the market. I am confident I won’t experience the kind of eruption of my subconscious that happened in college. There may be a bumpy road ahead of me, filled with aggravating side effects and unknown outcomes, that I will have to somehow take in stride. I’ll also miss the haloperidol. It’s become something of a trusted companion, the reassuring friend you want to hold onto forever.

Maya Gottfried is the author of “Vegan Love: Dating and Partnering for the Cruelty-Free Gal” (Skyhorse) and books for children including “Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary” (Knopf) and “Good Dog” (Knopf).

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  • My husband was given Haldol in an emergency room and never was the same and died 2 weeks later from this drug…he had dementia and this drug killed him. And so did another man that I know of who was given this drug in the same hospital as my husband. This drug is the cause of these deaths

  • The drug is an old one but it works very well . I have tried the newer ones which dont help and the side effects are severe .

  • Rebecca. I suggest you go on parmacyworld website in Canada and follow instructions to order the medication. They dont accept insurance but you will have a supply available in the event a shortage occurs in the United States.

  • I must have Haldol 1 mg daily to function. When they ran out, I had to cut 5 mg in half and I was a zombie. Can’t stand it when the drug companies play with people’s lives.

    • Rebecca….. this may not be the drug companies as much as it is the lovely ppl meant to Protect us aka DEA. These comments sound so similar to what our chronic pain and cancer patients are experiencing with their medications. In an effort to stop street thugs they have almost certainly made it impossible for those that need these medicines to get them. I can remember hiking 3 counties by car and documented over 100 pharmacies from chains like Walgreen walmart to mom and pop drug stores every corner across every county and all your told is its backordered out and its indefinite. The hours spent the miles driven the times wasted meanwhile my husband sat home sick in horrible withdrawal fr ok m something he was prescribed and took responsibly for years at that point. I dont think lawmakers should be in control here. YES YES THERE IS A CRISIS THERE IS DRUG PROBLEM and we have people obtaining and abusing these like its candy but we also have people suffering who should not. I have hospice patients unable to obtain Vicodin bc of this. I dont agree with what’s going on. Especially when they are the root cause of such issues.

      Would you believe me if I explained my husband who was on 1 short acting opiate was later required to obtain and READ THIS 180 OXYCODONE 30MG THATS 6 DAILY, 125 LORATAB 1 EVERY 2 HOURS OF VICODIN 10MG AND MORPHINE ER 60MG AT 90 THATS 3 PER DAY ALONG WITH XANAX TO SLEEP AND FLEXERIL FOR SPASM. AND HE WAS REQUIRED BC THE DEA SAID SO.

      So who is to blame here and remember these patients hav to pass urine tests so ALL THOSE DRUGS better be detected or your being reported. And we wonder why people are tolerant to opioids and have issues.

      10 years dealing with this and UK m afraid it’s just gonna get worse for all of us.

  • I’m the author of this article and have now heard from a few individuals that haloperidol is becoming available again in the US. Some people have already been able to obtain it. Additionally, the FDA drug shortage database now shows haloperidol as being available: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/drugshortages/dsp_ActiveIngredientDetails.cfm?AI=Haloperidol%20Tablets&st=c&tab=tabs-1

    Personally, I have been resubmitting my prescription, waiting for my local pharmacy to restock. But it does seem that the medication is in the marketplace again. Though it may take some time to get into stores.

  • I too take 2 mg of halperidol per day to stop hallucinations. I fear running out. I’m taking 10 mg. broken into fourths. Don’t know what I’m going to do

  • I disagree with the comment below, it’s actually a life saver to me and many more people. Everything has caused terrible side effects. This has been a miracle drug for me. That’s why I highly rely upon it, especially since it was on backorder for months.

  • Attn. Mike! the generic form of haldol is available in Canada and is manufactured by Teva. As far the availability in the U.S. i would check with the pharmacist who normally fills your perscription.

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