Smokers trying to quit may run into huge drawbacks, including suicide, with the anti-smoking drug Chantix.
A total of 544 suicides and 1,869 attempted suicides have been reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as “adverse events” in connection with Chantix, according to documents obtained by Al Jazeera’s America Tonight.
The widely popular drug was approved by the FDA in 2006 and is designed to curb the desire to smoke. But its users have reported adverse effects, which are side effects reported to the FDA by patients, doctors or health professionals.
“There were side effects that made it look like it was unsafe for pilots and people in critical occupation because there were seizures, blackouts, temporary blindness, blurry vision,” Thomas J. Moore, senior researcher with the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, who was testing new software to analyze adverse events, said.
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Moore also found Chantix was responsible for more adverse effects than any other drug on the market. These effects falls into four categories: suicidal behaviors, depression, psychosis and aggression.
One Chantix user, Tina Hurst, retold her ordeal with Chantix to America Tonight:
“Hurst, who said she’d never been depressed or suffered from any other mental illness, started experiencing hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. Hurst threatened to jump out of a moving car, forcing her parents [to call] 911… Hurst wound up spending five days in a locked-down psychiatric ward at a local hospital, a nightmarish experience she blames on Chantix.”
A 2010 study in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy analyzed 26 acts of violence reported to the FDA as adverse events associated with Chantix, including a man punching a stranger at a bowling alley, and a 24-year-old who beat her boyfriend in bed because “he looked so peaceful” before attempting suicide.
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But clinical trials of Chantix have not shown results of suicidal behavior or aggression that have been reported to the FDA. Pfizer, manufacturer of Chantix, released a statement to America Tonight saying, “Pfizer believes in and supports Chantix as an important treatment option for adult smokers who want to quit and takes the safety of all its medicines seriously.”
Despite the findings and adverse effects reported, the FDA still stands by Chantix, “Although Chantix, like any medication, is associated with a number of adverse effects, appropriate patient monitoring and selection can reduce the likelihood of these adverse events occurring.”
However, Hurst, who says her life is back to normal now, warns others of the drug.
“Pzifer is making a filling on this drug, but I took it. There were warnings at the time,” Hurst said. “But there’s always this ‘It won’t happen to me. It could happen to somebody else. It’s not going to happen to me.’”
Chantix, also known as Varenicline, has been prescribed to more than 20 million people worldwide, according to Pzifer. The FDA has asked the company to investigate reports of violence by Chantix users and report back by 2017.
Sources: America Tonight, U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health