Exclusive by Laurence Dollimore and Yzzy Bostyn
A BRITISH expat has revealed how she almost died after being administered Nolotil in Spain – as a string of former ‘victims’ continue to reach out to the Olive Press.
Doreen Hughes, 78, was given the ‘lethal’ painkiller following knee replacement surgery in September 2022 – despite nationwide guidance against giving the drug to British patients.
Nolotil, a form of metamizol, is banned in the UK, US, Australia and more than 30 other countries due to its potentially severe side effects on people of northern European descent.
In some patients, it can cause a rapid depletion of white blood cells, making them exposed to deadly infections such as sepsis.
Doreen was given the drug after her knee surgery at a private hospital in Alberic, Valencia.
READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Nolotil campaigners demand a criminal investigation into health officials in Spain following the death of a British expat, 42, who lost his life to sepsis after taking the ‘lethal’ painkiller
“I sat up in my hospital bed to eat my meal then I suddenly had a funny turn and just started shaking dramatically,” she recalled to the Olive Press this week.
“My husband Clifford called for help and the doctors just looked at each other blankly then sent me to the ICU.”
Doreen was sent home with doctors blaming her reaction on ‘low potassium and iron’ – and incredibly, she was prescribed Nolotil pills to manage her pain.
Within a day, she took another turn and was rushed back to the ICU in an ambulance.
She added: “I was in ICU for over a week with total organ failure, pulmonary embolism, sepsis and zero white blood count.
“This was followed by another couple of weeks in the hospital before being allowed home.
“It was very touch and go, Clifford was extremely upset and I was told I had a 50/50 chance of pulling through… luckily I’m a tough old bird and I did, but I now know never to touch Nolotil again.”
Doreen said she was never given advice or a warning before being prescribed the medication.
In December 2018, Spain brought in nationwide guidance for health centres, hospitals and pharmacies across the country.
These stated that Nolotil – a form of metamizole – must only be used by patients for short periods of time, and they should be monitored and have blood tests to detect any severe reaction.
The drug should also not be given to tourists and other people who would not have access to such controls and monitoring.
It must also be available by prescription only and on a case-by-case basis, with a patient’s medical history and risk factors taken into consideration.
However, despite the guidance, it seems multiple health centres across the country have continued to ignore them.
The real scale of the scandal could yet be exposed, with more and more Brits speaking about their experiences.
Another expat, Stephen Burke, 65, claimed he had to relearn how to walk as a result of taking Nolotil for back pain in July 2011
The Brit, originally from Wallsend on Tyne, had only been married for five months when he was admitted to a private hospital in Denia, Alicante, with severe back pain caused by a hip infection.
The Javea-based expat was given Nolotil, and his condition quickly worsened.
He told the Olive Press today: “I was in such incredible pain.
“The irony is, the more pain I was in, the more Nolotil they gave, the more blood cells were killed, the more infection there was, the more pain I had. It was compounding.”
As a result, Stephen, 52 at the time, spent a week in intensive care, slipping in and out of ‘terrifying’ hallucinations.
Stephen’s family also began to notice ‘unsanitary practices’ at the hospital including nurses ‘leaving used needles on beds dirty with blood’.
As a result, he resolved to leave the hospital, which has reportedly now been shut down.
No sooner had he stepped through his front door when he received an urgent call telling him to go ‘immediately’ to Denia Hospital.
He arrived in ‘excruciating pain’, unable to stay still even for an x-ray.
A former ski instructor, Stephen said: “They had to hold me down for a scan. My wife had to console me. I think the staff thought it was funny.
“But when I didn’t stop and I was screaming all night, it stopped being funny.”
The Brits immune system was depleted and he had contracted a spate of illnesses including sepsis and MRSA.
Medical staff quickly put him on morphine to control the pain and he slipped into a coma.
The newly wed’s wife was by his bedside everyday, fearing she may become a widow. During that time, he ‘momentarily died of pneumonia’.
He said: “I had lost all my white blood cells as a result of Nolotil and the doctors said my body just gave up, it was too tired to keep fighting.”
Doctors managed to bring Stephen back, though by the time he awoke from his coma, he had lost the use of his arms and legs.
He spent a gruelling 10 days in intensive care and a further two months in hospital, recovering from his experience.
But it would still take the sports enthusiast over a month and some €1000 of his own money to relearn how to walk with the help of a physiotherapist.
Incredibly, once he had recovered his insurance refused to pay out, leaving him to pay for his own stay in the private hospital, as well as expensive physiotherapy.
He claims they deemed his illness to be ‘not serious nor an emergency’ and stated that because his illness had occurred in the first six months of the policy, he was not entitled to make a claim.
He told the Olive Press: “They said it wasn’t life threatening, but how much more life threatening can you get?”
They reportedly then cancelled his policy with no reimbursement.
Although he said the care at Denia State Hospital was ‘excellent’, he says they ‘never informed me that there was a chance Nolotil was responsible.’
He said: “They were concerned with keeping me alive rather than looking for the cause.”
Unfortunately, this left Stephen in the dark about the cause of his illness and he took the lethal drug yet again in 2016.
Thankfully, Stephen’s wife ‘realised there was a problem and the hospital, now better informed about Nolotil, dealt with the issue correctly.’
Stephen promptly underwent blood tests which identified Nolotil as the perpetrator, leading doctors to connect Stephen’s current illness and his brush with death in 2011.
He said: “I didn’t know the first time around but when it happened again we realised.”
A lucky escape, this time he was only in hospital for two weeks with no major issues.
Even still, the once keen skier is still suffering from nerve damage in his feet as a result of the incidents.