When Chantix was introduced into the marketplace to cure nicotine addiction, it was viewed as the panacea that would finally cure our country’s incredibly unproductive addiction to nicotine. The problem is that anytime you have a drug that can make a great impact on a lot of people, there is an awful lot of money to be made. As a result, products get rushed onto the market. Did this happen with Chantix? The early returns appear to say yes.
The Food and Drug Administration hs received information about numerous serious problems with Chantix, including suicidal thoughts and ideation, homicidal ideations, and hallucinations. The FDA received reports of 37 suicides and 491 cases in which people had suicidal thoughts. If history is any guide, the actual incidences are often more than 10 times what the FDA reports. In other words, these numbers are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Still, there is no indication from Pfizer that there will be a recall of Chantix.
Pfizer released the drug without any warning regarding these potential side effects. By January of 2008, the reports of psychological side effects, most notably suicidal actions and ideations, reached a critical mass and Pfizer added a warning to the label of Chantix about the potential risks of suicidal behavior and depression. This warning followed a November 2007 update to Chantix's "post-marketing experience" section which stated that there had been reports of depression, agitation, and suicidal behavior and ideation in patients on Chantix. The FDA now says it is "increasingly likely" that there is an association between Chantix and suicidal thoughts, actual suicide, depression and other psychiatric symptoms.
No one knows exactly how Chantix works. But doctors do have a theory that certainly makes sense. People get addicted to nicotine because the brain craves it. Chantix does a pretty fascinating thing: it targets receptors in the brain that respond to nicotine. By targeting the brain receptors that respond to nicotine and release dopamine, Chantix prevents nicotine from reaching those brain receptors.
Accordingly, Chantix works in two ways. It blocks nicotine from stimulating these brain receptors, so cigarettes do not give users the dopamine release they crave, and it stimulates the release of lower levels of dopamine to help decrease the craving for nicotine which is what drives people who are trying to quit smoking back to cigarettes. And by all accounts, Chantix works for a large number of people who have tried it. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 44% of people taking Chantix were able to quit smoking in comparison to 17.7% percent of those taking placebos. No one can argue that Chantix is not an effective drug. But is it safe?
I’m a lawyer, not a pharmacologist. But it does not take a pharmacologist to realize that when you play with the chemicals in the brain that alter mood, like serotonin or dopamine, you are playing with fire. Because no one understands how all of these chemicals work together, altering the brain’s chemical processes should be done with a lot of care and you have to advise patients of the risks associated with doing so. Moreover, everyone's brain chemistry is different and not every drug is going to suit every person. This is true with any drug, Chantix is no different. But when the side effects are as serious as these appear to be, particularly the suicide, it raises the question of whether Chantix should be on the market at all.
Our Chantix lawyers are investigating a class action lawsuit on behalf of victims and their families who suffered a serious injury or death by suicide from the use of Chantix throughout the United States. If you or a loved one have experienced a severe side effect from Chantix, call one of our Chantix lawyers at 1-800-553-6000.