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Chantix, Miracle Drug or Silent Danger?

Filed in News & Politics by on July 8, 2011

Chantix, one of the most popular smoking cessation drugs in the market has been under scrutiny for some time. Several recent studies prove the drug increases risks of heart problems in addition to numerous adverse mental effects. The heart problems are the latest in a growing list of concerns raised by patient reports, lawsuits and studies since the drug’s approval in 2006. In fact, in 2008, it was removed from military pharmacies and the Federal Aviation Administration banned pilots and air traffic controllers from using the drug.

Overall, some of the drug’s adverse effects include changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions -according to its own label- and due to the risks of psychological events, the Chantix package was required to bear the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s most restrictive safety labeling warning.

A study recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, revealed that smokers who take Chantix (varenicline) could be at a higher risk of heart attacks and irregular heartbeats. Researchers conducted clinical trials involving 8,216 healthy people whom were given either Chantix or a placebo; those taking varenicline were found to be at an increased risk of serious heart problems such as heart attacks or congestive heart.  In fact, researchers stated that “the use of varenicline among tobacco users was associated with a 72% increased risk of serious adverse cardiovascular events.”

In May 2008, less than 48 hours after the Federal Aviation Administration learned the anti-smoking medicine might lead to safety problems, it ordered pilots and air traffic controllers to stop taking it immediately.   Evidence showed that the use of Chantix increased the occurrence of seizures, loss of consciousness, heart attacks, vision problems and various psychiatric instabilities in individuals, including suicidal thoughts or attempts. As the drug was being pulled from military pharmacies, the Department of Defense also recommended that the drug not be used by personnel operating aircrafts and/or missile crew members.

Chantix helped Laura Lawrence break a 25-year addiction to smoking. After smoking a pack a day and going through self-help books and nicotine patches, Lawrence turned to Chantix. Within a week, the thought of smoking repulsed her, “it just tasted nasty,” she said. “It was like smoking a burning rope.” The drug took away the joy of smoking, which is exactly what Lawrence wanted and what the drug is designed to do. But it also took away enjoyment in other aspects of her life. Lawrence woke up crying in the morning for reasons she couldn’t explain. She felt depressed, anxious and snapped at people. She stopped taking the drug and retried the regimen on a lower dosage. But the depression returned. “Parts of it worked so well,” she said about the drug. “They got a part of it right. I wish there was something to counteract the side effects, because it was severe.” In the end, Lawrence resumed smoking.

There are currently 3 million Chantix users in the United States and the drug has been prescribed to more than 7 million people since it was released in 2006. Pfizer stands by its drug saying the numerous studies already conducted contained several limitations and is working with the FDA to design a comprehensive look at existing research to evaluate the safety of Chantix.


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