The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating claims the new quit smoking drug Chantix, released under the name Champix in Australia, is the cause of suicidal thoughts and related erratic behaviour in some patients.
At least 100 cases of smokers experiencing psychiatric symptoms whilst taking the drug are being investigated in the United States. Patients claim that within days to weeks of starting the twelve week course of treatment, they experienced depressed mood, suicidal thoughts and behavioural changes for the first time in their lives.
A spokesperson for the FDA did say, “Smoking cessation, with or without treatment, is associated with nicotine withdrawal symptoms and has also been associated with the exacerbation of underlying psychiatric illness.” But it is important to note, some of the cases being investigated by the FDA involve smokers who had no prior history of any psychiatric illness before taking Chantix.
Pfizer’s Chief Medical Officer has been quoted as saying “there is no scientific evidence establishing a relationship between Chantix and these reported events.”
However, the makers of Chantix (Champix) were aware there might be a problem with the drug since at least November 2007 and yet, the drug was still released in Australia without warning consumers of these particularly troubling side effects, on 1 January, 2008. The European drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency called for warnings to be placed on Champix back in December 2007. The agency was concerned about the numbers of reported suicide attempts by smokers who were taking the drug. Despite this, nowhere in the list of side effects released by Pfizer Australia is there any mention of suicidal thoughts or erratic behaviour changes.
I did predict back in mid-December that Champix would go the way of it’s predecessor Zyban, which came under harsh scrutiny in the press several years ago when smokers reported similar psychiatric symptoms after taking the drug.
As I revealed in my post of 17 December 2007, I stopped taking Zyban after the drug kept me awake for three days. Pfizer Australia did include sleeping problems on their list of possible side effects of taking Champix. So for me, the similarities between Zyban and Champix were just too big to ignore and I chose never to try the new drug.
I would urge any smoker thinking about taking Champix should delay the decision until at least the results of the FDA investigation in the US are released. There are much safer alternatives available to the individual who wishes to quit smoking.