Chantix has become the leading prescription to help smokers kick the habit. Pfizer, Manufacturer of Chantix, has reported skyrocketing sales since its introduction in 2006. Sales totaled $101 million in 2006, $883 million in 2007, and $846 in 2008. It’s dominant in its market, with a reported 90% market share.
Chantix is unique because it not only reduces the urge to smoke, it actually blocks the brain’s nicotine receptors. This means if the smoker lapses and lights up, it won’t satisfy the nicotine craving. Chantix can be taken up to 12 weeks, by which time the smoker should have lost any urge to smoke. By design, Chantix users experience the similar symptoms of quitting smoking cold turkey. Many patients experience mood swings, depression, and even thoughts of suicide. Pfizer has stated these side effects are a result of nicotine withdrawal, and not the drug itself. Other’s believe there is a link to Chantix and the psychological side effects.
Since Chantix was approved just a little more than three years ago in May of 2006, considerable controversy has mounted. Within months of its approval, the FDA issued public warnings about the increasing likelihood of Chantix being associated with serious changes in patients’ behavior including agitation, hostility, depression, suicidal thoughts, and reports of attempted and completed suicide. In many cases, the problems began shortly after starting the medication and ended when the mediation was stopped. In 2007, the FDA released an alert to doctors to look for unusual behavior. This came shortly after the musician Carter Albrect was shot and killed. Those close to him cited his use of Chantix and atypical behavior leading up to his death.
The FDA issued a Public Health Advisory on February 1, 2008, to alert patients, doctors, and caregivers to important new safety warnings on the drug label relating to suicidal behavior and several other neuropsychiatic symptoms. Also, in 2008, the FAA banned the use of Chantix by pilots and co-pilots, citing possible psychological side effects. Also in 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs made headline news by issuing Chantix to soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. Earlier this year Health Canada (Canada’s Public Health Department) revised the warnings of Chantix after receiving over 800 reports of adverse psychological side effects. Most recently, the FDA has (finally) required Pfizer to place new warnings in the form of a Boxed Warning – the strongest warning possible – highlighting the risks concerning Chantix and a link to changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts and behavior, and attempted suicide. The FDA has instructed doctors to have their patients cease use immediately if they experience any of these side effects.
With hundreds of suicides reportedly linked to Chantix, and thousands more attempted suicides, Pfizer has gone far too long downplaying the psychological side effects as simply nicotine withdrawal.