VA Uses Troubled Drug Chantix on Unwitting Veterans with PTSD


The push to try to raise public awareness about the dangers of smoking and the industry built around the act of quitting smoking has made businesses-especially drug manufacturers-eager to discover the next big cure-all for quitting. Prescription drug verenicline, marketed by Pfizer as Chantix, was supposed to be just this type of anti-smoking remedy.

However, in November 2007, the FDA received reports that patients using Chantix experienced some troubling side effects, including thoughts of suicide and erratic behavior. The reports caused the FDA to issue an Alert on February 1, 2008 concerning the drug, which it agreed needed more examination. The Federal Aviation Administration followed suit, banning the use of Chantix by its pilots and air traffic controllers-the Los Angeles Times also reported that over two dozen traffic accidents had been associated with the use of Chantix.

With this fairly spotted recent history, it's no surprise to hear that Chantix is back in the news once again. But this time, the reasons are even more serious.

The Washington Times broke a story that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs used Chantix to treat veterans diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder without telling them of the possible psychiatric side effects that users may experience until three months after the treatment started (they had learned of the dangers months before the official FDA alert). The warning only occurred after one ex-soldier experienced a psychiatric episode that caused a violent run-in with police.

As WFAA Dallas-Forth Worth reports, former Army sniper James Elliott suffered a mental breakdown and began exhibiting violent and erratic behavior at home. His girlfriend called 911, and when the officers arrived, he became more agitated. Elliott was shocked with a Taser electroshock weapon when he reached for a concealed handgun, though, fortunately, that proved to be the extent of the violent incident.

Elliott and around 140 other veterans enrolled in a clinical trial offered through the VA in which they would receive $30 a month for taking the drug. Elliott, like many of the other participants, needed the cash and didn't think twice about the medication, and even when he began hallucinating and having suicidal thoughts, didn't connect these feelings with the drug, but rather attributed them to his PTSD.

The incident involving Elliot has now made national headlines, and caused some stir in Washington over the VA's poor judgment in both creating the medical trial and failing to warn its patients adequately. Democratic nominee for president Barack Obama has called for an investigation into the matter, using the incident to highlight his platform on improving healthcare and benefits to veterans and challenging his opponent, Republican John McCain, to do likewise.

To this point, the VA has been publicly unremorseful, only issuing a statement to the effect that the FDA has not recalled the drug, nor was their usage inconsistent with doctor prescription for quitting smoking.

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