MIQ returnee shocked to be prescribed 30 anti-anxiety pills when she'd only agreed to one sleeping tablet

A recent returnee is raising the alarm after she was prescribed a lot more medication than she agreed to during her stay in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).

Katie* arrived in New Zealand from France last month. Her dad's health has been progressively declining and she had been fighting to come back home to care for him. 

She was "extremely distressed" at the beginning of her MIQ stay and had conversations with the nurse where she was crying throughout. On day two of her stay, the nurse suggested Katie be prescribed sleeping tablets and anti-anxiety medication, which she declined.

Katie has dealt with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in the past and says she prefers not to "numb" her emotions with medication.

In the end, the nurse suggested Katie take one sleeping pill to get a good night's sleep.

Katie agreed to this because she was "mentally and physically exhausted". She says she didn't sleep at all flying from France to New Zealand, and in the five days before departing for Aotearoa managed no more than two hours of sleep a night.

But Katie was stunned after MIQ staff brought her 10 Zopiclone sleeping tablets and 30 Ativan anti-anxiety pills, when she had only agreed to take one.

They even suggested to her that she take both in the evening, even though the medications can interact with each other negatively - increasing dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, and making concentrating difficult.

'They don't know me or my medical history'

"I'm sure the nurse was trying to help, but I was a little shocked as they don't know me or my medical history and for all they know I could actually be manic depressive or bipolar and this could lead to a dangerous situation," Katie tells Newshub.

"I took one sleeping pill on my second night in MIQ and was completely knocked out in less than five minutes. I woke up with a start at 6am and felt horrible. It felt like I had a bookcase on my head, it was so heavy and I felt so extremely sad. 

"I ended up crying non-stop under the blankets for about two hours, then I started listening to various meditations and after four hours had managed to regulate myself again."

Katie called the nurses' station three times and asked to speak with the mental health nurse. She admits she was worried staff did want to keep her quiet with sleeping pills and medication, especially since the nurse never called her back.

The nurse says she was put through to her room twice but she didn't answer, but Katie disputes this, saying she never left and would've heard the phone ring.

MIQ returnee shocked to be prescribed 30 anti-anxiety pills when she'd only agreed to one sleeping tablet
Photo credit: Supplied

"That evening the night nurse called to check on me and I told her how the sleeping pill had made me feel. She said, 'Oh yes, those ones are so strong, I only ever take an eighth'. She suggested I take a lower dosage," Katie says.

"The next day I managed to speak to the mental health nurse and she said she felt I had all the tools to manage my own mental health and said I didn't need to be medicated."

Katie says she doesn't have anything bad to say about MIQ, since it was "essential" to keeping New Zealand safe. What she does have an issue with, she says, is their ability to deal with people who have emotional or mental health issues. 

"I don't want to chastise the MIQ nurses, they were very kind to me and tried their best to help me in a very distressing situation. I think they are perhaps just a bit old-school and believe medication is the answer and I'm sure that it has its place," she says.

"My main concern was that they prescribed a lot of medication for someone who they hadn't seen in person, whose history they didn't know and who they didn't correctly check up on afterwards."

MIQ responds

A MIQ spokesperson told Newshub that it isn't uncommon for medical events to occur in their facilities from pre-existing conditions, and they're equipped to handle most of these. Sometimes a hospital admission is needed, they said, in which case people are transferred there by ambulance.

"A team of health professionals are always available at every facility. Nurses are available 24/7 at the facilities to support returnees and help them access care. This includes access to kaupapa Māori services.

"Our dedicated on-site medical staff can support a range of care requirements, including phone or in-person consultations with a general practitioner (GP) and assistance with any prescribed medications."

On arrival at MIQ, returnees have a health and wellbeing assessment by a health professional on-site. Facilities provide both urgent and primary healthcare services on an as-needed basis, with referral to specialist support if needed.

The spokesperson adds that all returnees have access to nurses on-site who conduct in-person or phone assessments, and they will be referred to a doctor when required. The next steps are then advised by the doctor.