Chantix, a medication meant to help people stop smoking, might be to blame for the suicide of a British man in October. According to the man’s family, the victim, who had no prior history of depression, slashed his wrists and died just four weeks after starting treatment with Chantix. In November, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced that Chantix would undergo a safety review after it had been linked to psychological problems, including suicidal thoughts and erratic behavior in some users.
Chantix, approved in 2006, works by blocking nicotine receptors to the brain. Chantix, which is marketed by Pfizer, is the first such nicotine receptor partial agonist approved by the FDA. It was heralded as an alternative to other smoking cessation drugs and nicotine replacement therapy. The Chantix label warns of various side effects, including nausea, changes in dreaming, constipation, gas and vomiting. But those warnings are more prominent and easier to find than the fine print on the package insert that warns of the possibility of psychotic and suicidal behavior.
According to published reports, Omer Jama, a 39-year-old British television editor, had begun taking Chantix to cure his 15-year-old addiction to cigarettes. Though estranged from his wife, Jama was said by his family to be upbeat and optimistic in his outlook. He had booked a holiday to Cuba with a friend just days previously to celebrate is 40th birthday, and the amateur golfer was still excited after winning a trophy at a recent tournament. Jama’s brother told the British press that just days before the man had taken his own life, they had spoken. The brother said that Jama was happy, and excited about his upcoming trip. He made no hints, nor did Jama say anything to indicate that he was depressed and might be contemplating suicide. The family is convinced that Jama’s suicide was a direct result of his Chantix use.
In the US, the FDA announced last month that it was reviewing several postmarketing incidents involving suicidal thoughts and occasional suicidal behavior linked to Chantix use. The FDA said it is currently reviewing these cases, along with a number of recent highly publicized incidents in the media. In Britain, the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency has received 839 reports of adverse reactions associated with Chantix. Forty-six were linked to depression, with 16 claiming to have suffered suicidal thoughts – although no suicides had been reported.
Anyone using or considering using Chantix must be aware of the reported psychological problems associated with its use. Healthcare professionals should monitor patients taking Chantix for behavior and mood changes. Patients taking Chantix should also contact their doctors if they experience behavior or mood changes. Chantix users should also use caution when driving or operating machinery until they know how quitting smoking with Chantix may affect them, as the FDA is also evaluating reports of drowsiness in patients taking Chantix. These reports described patients who experienced drowsiness that affected their ability to drive or operate machinery.