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Chantix Blamed in Second UK Suicide

Jan 21, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Chantix has been linked to a second suicide in the United Kingdom, just days after Pfizer announced that the stop smoking drug would bear stronger warnings regarding depression and suicide in the US. According to an article in the UK Daily Mail, a 36-year-old welder from Rossington in the UK hung himself shortly after completing a 13 week course of Champix –as Chantix is called in Britain.  His death comes just months after Chantix was implicated in the suicide of a 39-year-old British TV producer who ended his life while being treated with Chantix. 

Chantix, approved in  the US in 2006, works by blocking nicotine receptors to the brain.  Chantix is the first such nicotine receptor partial agonist approved by the US  Food & Drug Administration (FDA).  It was heralded as an alternative to other smoking cessation drugs and nicotine replacement therapy. Prior to Pfizer’s announcement last week that it would be adding new warnings to the US version,, the Chantix  package insert stated  that psychotic and suicidal behavior were potential side effects.  But that caution was far less prominent than the warnings for other various side effects, including nausea, changes in dreaming, constipation, and gas and vomiting that appeared on the Chantix label.

According to the family of Wayne Marshall, the father of two began taking Chantix in order to end a 20-cigarette-a-day habit.  Marshall quickly became quiet and withdrawn, and on one occasion, his wife found him crying uncontrollably.  His psychological problems got increasingly worse, and Marshall finally separated from his wife.  Unaware that Chantix could be contributing to his problems, Marshall continued taking the drug as prescribed.  According to Marshall’s wife, he had finished the drug course a week before she last saw him, but had started smoking immediately.   A week later, he had taken his own life.

In the US, Chantix is currently undergoing an FDA safety review.  The agency decided to conduct the review following reports describing suicidal thoughts and occasional suicidal behavior possibly linked to Chantix use.  The FDA said that its preliminary assessment revealed that many of the cases reflect new-onset of depressed mood, suicidal ideation, and changes in emotion and behavior within days to weeks of initiating Chantix treatment.  The role of Chantix in these cases is not clear, the FDA said, because smoking cessation, with or without treatment, is associated with nicotine withdrawal symptoms and has also been associated with the exacerbation of underlying psychiatric illness.  However, not all patients described in these cases had pre-existing psychiatric illness and not all had discontinued smoking.

Similar problems have been seen among Chantix users abroad.  The European Medicines Agency last month ordered improved warnings to patients over the twice-daily prescription medicine following reports it could lead to depression.   Figures from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency show one other patient has taken his life while on Chantix, two others have attempted suicide and there have been 60 other "suicidal-type suspected adverse reactions" reported.

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