Chantix: Promotion and Perils

Most patients with susceptible cancers are thankful for chemotherapy and radiation, and are willing to suffer crippling and dangerous side effects, even death, if treatment can help them or prolong their lives. But would you take a drug to treat a bad smoking habit with more warnings than a travel advisory to a war zone, and 90,000 URL’s under its combined search term for “adverse reactions”?

I guess it depends on what you read about Chantix, (Champix in Europe), the trade name for Varenicline, marketed in the U.S. by Pfizer to treat smoking addiction. For starters, the ad for doctor, running for weeks in the JAMA, has almost two pages out of four of “important safety information”- warnings and adverse reactions. Included in the ad are neuropsychiatric symptoms ranging from suicidal and violent behavior, worsening of psychiatric illness, as well as  nausea, sleep disturbance, constipation, vomiting, to which you might add Steven Johnson Sydrome, Erythma Multiforme, and angioedema, etc.

The drug portal,  reported an index of adverse events during 2007 alone of 2319 serious events related to ingestion of Chantix from patients and non-professionals Cases resulting in death, 42, life-threatening events, 52, hospitalizations, 306. Because of the findings of a medical watchdog group, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), the drug has been grounded by the FAA for pilots and air traffic controllers. Fearing for the safety of passengers. 150 pilots and 30 ground controllers were ordered to stop taking the drug. The ISMP findings indicate from May 2006 until December 2007 there were 227 reports of suicide attempts, 28 actual suicides, 397 cases of possible psychosis and 52 reports of hostility or aggression. The latter, according to the news report, is what led to the death of popular Dallas musician Carter Albrecht, “…after he flipped out, assaulted his girlfriend and attempted to break into a neighbor’s home before being shot dead.”

A “Black Box Warning(a notice on the packaging of a prescription drug which warns patients and prescribers that the drug has potentially dangerous side effects) was not issued by the FDA until July 2009, 14 months after the FAA issued their edict for pilots and air traffic controllers! I seriously wonder how a drug for smoking addiction can survive the press it’s been receiving for almost three years and why doctors and patients continue to use a drug with this reputation. Will Chantix finally be taken off the market, or will the FDA, as is too often the case, cave in to pressure from Big Pharma, just as the medical profession and the public continue to succumb to drug advertising blitzes?

2 Responses to “Chantix: Promotion and Perils”

  1. terri says:

    To make a long story short…Chantix HAS TO BE TAKEN OFF THE MARKET!! I took two scripts of Chantix between Oct. ’06 – Oct. ’07. Two hospital stays in ’08.

    Jan. ’08 – – taken by amublance in middle of nite w/severe chest pains, fever, stomach spasms that felt like contractions, horrific headache and could not breath!! Put on oxygen, antibiotics and morphine IV’s, 24/7 for a week. Released w/diagnosis – – possible virus.

    May ’08 – – had great day at work (as usual)! Love my job of 23 years! Married daughter called when I got home. Said, “mom, everybody is worried about you. You haven’t been yourself for MONTHS!! What’s wrong?? I smiled, picked up keys, took long drive to rural area, picked up 3 bottles of sleeping pills and box of mini-diabetic razors (which I never knew existed…until that nite!) Parked on a used car parking lot, wrote short note, “it’s been real.” Wasn’t sad, mad, glad…just FLAT! Woke up six days later in ICU surrounded by family and clergy. Family watched a ventilator breath for me for those six days.

    Spent time in psyche unit, followed up with months of intense outpatient therapy, psychiatrist, therapist, group therapy…etc. I was as astounded as those around me…how could I DO such a thing??!! It’s been almost two years and my babysitting rights to my 6 beautiful grandchildren is just NOW being restored…my husband of 36 years is starting to believe my feet are firmly planted again…and my daughters are just beginning to ask my advice on things once again.

    I was not myself. I knew that…yet couldn’t stop the spiral. My thoughts and dreams were all consumed w/death. While never even attempting drugs in high school…can tell you first hand what a “hallucination” is. I would’ve SWORN on a stack of bibles…deceased loved ones from the past came to my room at nite, sat on my bed, and explained to me how absolutely BEAUTIFUL, heaven is…and they wanted me to JOIN them. Well, figured my job was done here! Ok! I’ll go!! And, that was it. That drug is VERY SCARY!!! VERY REAL!!! AND VERY DANGEROUS!!!!

  2. Terri, this is the most impressive and troubling story I’ve heard about Chantix. What a horrifying experience you’ve had! Thanks so much for your comments-almost an essay in itself.

    I agree with you that Chantix should be taken off the market, but it is only the first of a long list of dangerous or controversial drugs that should be dealt with by the FDA.

Leave a Reply for Martin Sturman