Friday, December 9, 2011

We loved our lithium until it turned on us!

HELLO PANEL MEMBERS of the US Food and Drug Administration,

My name is Ruth Deming. I live in Willow Grove, PA, and would like to advocate for a Black Box Warning for the drug lithium.

On February 14, 1984, I had a manic-psychotic episode and was diagnosed with manic-depression, now known as bipolar disorder 1. (There is also bipolar disorder type 2.)

My psychiatrist put me on the drug lithium which I took faithfully for 16.5 years, getting the required lab tests once every six months.

Sometime in 2001, my psychiatrist told me my creatinine level was rising, a sign that the lithium was damaging my kidneys. The level was 2.8.

Normal creatinine level is between .5 to 1.4, according to my nephrologist (kidney doctor) at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, where I had a kidney transplant on April 1, 2011.

In 2001, I went off the lithium and visited the office of a local nephrologist, who said I should have enough kidney function to last the rest of my life.

Few doctors, if any, were aware of the long-term effects of lithium, because the drug was so new.

Back in 2001, we didn't know the deleterious effects of the drug the way we are learning today, 10 years later.

The drug lithium began the revolution of using medication to treat mental illness. John Cade, a psychiatrist and researcher in Australia, wrote a paper in 1949, describing lithium's antimanic results.

His paper, which appeared in a scientific journal, was read by Danish psychiatrist, Mogens Shou, who performed his own experiments with the drug and introduced it to much of Europe. Like Cade, he was a humble man and extremely grateful for the life-enhancing properties it had on patients.

Several psychiatrists brought lithium to America in 1970.

One of them was psychiatrist/surgeon William L. Dyson who first introduced lithium to the Philadelphia area. Read his fascinating obit here. I attended several of his lithium clinics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, after which I decided to start my own support group, New Directions of Abington, PA.

At a recent meeting of New Directions, a woman I'll call Marian, was told by her nephrologist that her kidneys were failing. 62 years old and on lithium for about 15 years, she is yet another person whose kidneys have been destroyed by the drug that once helped us so much.

In our recent Compass magazine, I profiled two people with the same problem.

Compass Mental Health Magazine, Fall 2011 - Update: Sharon got her kidney on Jan. 3, 2012

Marian goes to the same nephrology practice I do, Hypertension-Nephrology Associates of Willow Grove. They have an excellent training program to help people adapt to dialysis. Both Marian and I attended a personal orientation session done by nurse Kathy.

In fact I just drove over there to speak to Sally, the secretary of Dr Ghantous, and gave her a copy of the Compass. I'd like Ghantous to read about my friends Denis and Sharon who both lost kidney function due to lithium.

Sally and I walked outside and I showed her the back cover of the Compass. The photo of Willow Lake was taken at the lake right next door to the kidney place.


  1. It's so tough what Lithium did to you. I will say this about Lithium - it makes the best cold-weather camera batteries that I have ever used.

  2. aha! that's where i made my mistake, bill! it should have been inserted in my belly.

  3. Damn drug companies. The gift that kept on giving.

  4. I was diagnosed with Bi-polar and placed on an anti depressant and lithium by a psychiatrist about three months ago, he eventually increased my dosage to 1,500 mg. I was having difficulty with the medications and my depression was not lifting. I took myself off of the medications and am now searching for a psychiatrist that has a more holistic approach. I live in Flourtown, PA. Does any one have any suggestions?

    1. Please email me at for some suggestions.

    2. Sadly, the woman I called Marian just died - mid-November 2016 from complications of dialysis. Denis H also passed away from complications of dialysis. Psychiatrists should NOT prescribe lithium anymore!!!

  5. Wow would love to have the name of a doctor that takes the holistic approach.