Published on August 3, 2010 at 11:07 PM
By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
The smoking cessation drug Champix (sold in the US as Chantix) has allegedly made fifteen people commit suicide since January 2008 in Australia. Another 191 patients have reported suicidal thoughts and related effects. The latest available figures from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) suggest a doubling in the numbers of suicides linked to Champix (Varenicline) since July last year with six people committing suicide.
Now the TGA has warned the doctors to remind patients of the potential risks and asked them to inform patients of possible mood disturbances that could be associated with the drug. TGA in its latest bulletin said it received 1,025 reports of suspected adverse reactions to Champix between January 2008, when it was added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and May this year. They report that 691 of these (67% of all complaints) were described “psychiatric symptoms such as depression, agitation, anxiety, altered mood and aggression” after taking the drug.
With the rise in the use of this drug as an anti smoking measure, there were 250,000 PBS scripts for Champix issued to August last year - a figure that has soared to more than one million since then. Last year, US regulators ordered warnings with the drug need to be strengthened.
According to a TGA spokeswoman it was not possible to say Champix caused the suicidal effects, as nicotine withdrawal itself could trigger similar symptoms. She said, “In general, overseas agencies have taken a similar approach to the TGA in raising consumer and prescriber awareness.” A spokeswoman for Champix's maker, Pfizer also pointed out that smoking kills 19,000 Australians every year and the drug was “an important treatment option for smokers who want to quit”.