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Anti-Smoking Drug Suicide Risks Questioned by New Study

Following concerns over psychiatric side effects associated with some anti-smoking drugs, researchers indicate that a new study was unable to find a link between and use of Chantix, Wellbutrin or Zyban and an increased risk of suicide.  

According to findings published last week by the British Medical Journal, researchers from the University of Bristol could not identify a link between smoking cessation drugs and an increased risk of suicide.

The study comes after the makers of Chantix have settled thousands of lawsuits over claims that the drug caused users to experience psychological problems, including suicidal tendencies and violent, irrational behavior.

Researchers looked at data on 119,546 men and women who used a smoking cessation product between September 2006 and October 2011. Of those, 6,741 used bupropion, sold under the brand names Wellbutrin and Zyban, and another 31,260 used Chantix. The rest used some other smoking cessation products, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).

The study found that there was no evidence that patients prescribed Chantix, Wellbutrin, or Zyban were at higher risk of fatal or non-fatal self harm or depression. The researchers determined that according to their findings there was no such risk.

Similar findings were reported last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine by researchers from the University of California and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which also failed to find a link between Chantix side effects and an increased suicide risk.

Chantix Suicide Concerns

Chantix (varenicline) is a Pfizer drug designed to help smokers quit. The drug works by reducing the positive feelings that come from cigarettes, blocking the receptors in the brain commonly stimulated by nicotine. However, a few years after the drug was introduced and heralded as a potential blockbuster medication in 2006, reports began to surface of users committing suicide or engaging in sudden, unusual behavior.

In June 2009, the FDA added a “black box” warning about the risk of psychological problems with Chantix, and Pfizer was ordered to conduct additional clinical trials to provide more data on how often neuropsychiatric symptoms and suicide with Chantix occur and what conditions cause them.

Thousands of product liability lawsuits have been filed against Pfizer, indicating that former users suffered injury after experiencing violent behavior, aggression, attempting suicide or killing themselves. A number of murders, deaths and suicides were blamed on the drug, which allegedly can cause nightmares so vivid and horrifying that the phrase “Chantix nightmare” has become a cultural reference.

In the federal court system, the Chantix litigation was consolidated as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, which was centralized before U.S. District Judge Inge Johnson in the Northern District of Alabama. While a total of more than 3,000 lawsuits have been part of the Chantix MDL at one time, no case ever reached trial.

In March 2013, Pfizer announced that Chantix settlement agreements had been reached in a vast majority of the more than 2,500 cases filed nationwide on behalf of users who committed suicide, attempted suicide or suffered other unusually aggressive behavior after using the prescription medication to help them stop smoking.

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