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Is Chantix an Antidepressant?

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Washington, DC: Pfizer's smoking cessation drug Chantix (Champix in the UK), which has been plagued with reports of side effects including attempted suicide, suicide and aggression, has recently been classed as an antidepressant. In other news, Pfizer has released the names of physicians paid by the pharmaceutical giant to speak to other doctors on behalf of its products muddies the waters in terms of potential conflict.

Is Chantix an Antidepressant?The 4/9/10 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that no fewer than 69 Wisconsin doctors were on Pfizer's payroll during the last six months of 2009. The physicians working on Pfizer's behalf as speakers, consultants and researchers earned more than $200,000 combined in the six month period ending December 31, 2009.

Pamela Wilson, a retired doctor from Madison, was one of the highest paid of the group, earning $42,000 from Pfizer over the six month period. In contrast, the national average for Pfizer speakers during that time was $3,400.

The Journal Sentinel reports that Wilson is a retired specialist in pulmonary medicine from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She made three presentations to other doctors about Chantix during the last six months of 2009. In an email statement, Wilson noted, "I have been an advocate for the prevention and treatment of lung disease and tobacco use throughout my professional career."

Dr. Wilson would not say how many presentations she had made on behalf of Chantix over the last two years.

Advocates of Chantix have noted that the risks associated with Chantix—assuming the quitter is successful in achieving smoking cessation—are less significant than the risks of continuing to smoke.

There is little doubt that Chantix has worked well for many. However, others have reported suicide, attempted suicide and aggression—as well as vivid dreams, behaviors and other symptoms that are either foreign to the individual, or a magnification of existing symptoms that were manageable prior to starting the Chantix regimen.

A federal survey released in April showed that more than 40 percent of US adults who suffer from depression are also smokers. According to a report from Reuters, the survey determined that more than half of middle aged men with depression are also smokers, and half of women under the age of 40 with depression also smoke.

It should be noted that in clinical trials, participants testing the merits and effectiveness of Chantix also received regular counseling. It is unclear if the general population of quitters attempting to kick the habit with Chantix, receive the same counseling support.

Reuters identified Chantix (varenicline) in a 4/17/10 report as an antidepressant. Pfizer, which does not identify Chantix as an antidepressant, describes the medication on its website as a "nicotinic receptor partial agonist indicated for use as an aid to smoking cessation treatment."

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