A product liability lawsuit has been filed against Pfizer by the family of Dallas musician, Carter Albrecht, whose 2007 death brought media attention to the psychiatric side effects of Chantix, a smoking cessation drug that now carries strong warnings that it may increase the risk of sudden aggressive behavior, suicidal thoughts and other unusual actions.
The Albrecht’s Chantix wrongful death lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, alleging that Pfizer either intentionally or negligently advertised Chantix as a safe drug to help people quit smoking, without warning about the dangerous psychological side effects.
The case joins other similar suits filed throughout the United States by individuals who have suffered serious or fatal injuries as a result of suicides, suicide attempts and other changes in behavior allegedly caused by the drug.
Cater Albrecht, who was a popular musician in the Dallas area and a member of Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians, was shot to death on September 3, 2007, after he began violently banging on the neighbor’s door in the middle of the night. Although he had been drinking the night he was shot, the family claims that his actions were caused by hallucinations, vivid nightmares and a violent shift in behavior after he started taking Chantix to help him quit smoking.
Following his death, media attention and an investigation by the FDA into reports of problems with Chantix led Pfizer to add information to the drug’s warning label about the potential psychiatric side effects. Earlier this year, the FDA required that a new Chantix black box warning be placed prominently on the label to warn users about the potentially life-threatening side effects, which is the strongest warning that can be placed on a prescription medication.
Chantix (varenicline) was approved by the FDA in 2006 and works by blocking receptors in the brain that are commonly stimulated by nicotine, reducing the positive feelings that come from cigarettes. However, shortly after the drug was introduced, hundreds of people began to report severe Chantix side effects, including violent and self-destructive behavior.
Dozen’s of Chantix lawsuits have been filed against Pfizer, all containing similar allegations that Pfizer failed to adequately research Chantix or warn about the risk of problems. During clinical trials performed before the drug was introduced, individuals with a psychiatric history or current psychiatric symptoms were excluded from the studies. As a result, Chantix problems were not evaluated among people with common conditions like depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and insufficient warnings were placed on the drug.
Earlier this summer, a group of 20 plaintiffs moved to consolidate the federal Chantix litigation into an MDL, or Multidistrict Litigation, to avoid inconsistent pretrial rulings, repeat discovery on issues common to all cases and to serve the convenience of the parties, the witnesses and the courts. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has scheduled a hearing for September 24 to consider the motion.