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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chantix: More Or Less Dangerous Than Smoking?

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It seems like every day the options for smokers are getting worse and worse. Non-smokers don't understand how expensive it can be to quit smoking! Patches, gums, and all other nicotine substitutes cost a fortune, about one and a half times as much as plain old cigarettes. And statistically, they probably won't work.

No wonder Chantix has become such a popular option in recent years: not only is it covered under many people's health care plans (unlike nicotine gum or patches), but it is also surprisingly effective at getting users to quit.

Unfortunately there is a down side: at least 150 people have committed suicide while on Chantix over the last four years. Activists suspect the number is actually much higher, and that many suicides and murders are going overlooked or unattributed to their true cause.

The side effects of Chantix are as alarming as they are well-publicized. They include episodes of psychosis, including hallucinations, delusions, psychotic breaks, and homicidal rages.

In 2007 this issue became big national news after the death of musician Carter Albrecht, a kind person with no history of violence. After taking Chantix while drinking (Chantix users are cautioned not to mix Chantix with alcohol) Albrecht flew into an inexplicable psychotic rage, hit his girlfriend, and chased her next door when she fled. Their neighbor fired what was meant to be a warning shot, but it hit Albrecht in the head and he died instantly.

Not long after the infamous Albrecht incident, I read a chilling account by a man who experienced Chantix's side effects. These can mimic the effects of schizophrenia, and include visual hallucinations, paranoia, and hearing angry voices. I seem to recall that the article was published in Slate, although I cannot find it now.

According to statistics from the American Cancer Society, over 7 million people have used Chantix. And 440,000 Americans die from tobacco use every year. Given these sobering numbers, it's hard to decide where to draw the line with this medication.

Is a life-saving medication justified if it carries with it a small risk of suicide? And is Chantix a life-saving medication like a diabetic's insulin, or a voluntary but necessary drug like, say, seasonal allergy medication? I could do without my daily Claritin if I had to; I wouldn't die, although I might FEEL like it.

The idea of a medication that has suicide as a side effect is a sobering one. But so is that number, 440,000 people dying every year from cigarettes. Surely it's better to have 150 people die a year than 440,000?

As for myself, after being a pack-a-day smoker for over 20 years, and having tried just about every method out there (but not Chantix), I successfully quit cold turkey two years ago. Alan Carr's book The Easy Way to Quit Smoking is known by many as "the magic book," and it surely was for me. If you are a smoker trying to quit, you might want to try reading Carr's book before resorting to Chantix. It really does work, and the side effects are considerably more reasonable!

1 comment:

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