Kristi, who has bipolar disorder, says she should never have been prescribed Chantix, but her psychiatrist assured her that the drug was safe and better than smoking. But Chantix isn't for everyone, and for Kristi, the drug turned out to be nearly deadly.
Kristi started taking Chantix in June 2007 and stayed on it for six months. On its website, The manufacturer advises consumers "to take CHANTIX for a full 12 weeks. If you have completely quit smoking by 12 weeks, ask your doctor if another 12 weeks of CHANTIX may help you stay cigarette-free." Kristi suffered from "really bad" withdrawal symptoms, so her psychiatrist also recommended she stay on it longer.
"I thought the withdrawal would get better over time, but as it turned out, I sunk into a severe depression," says Kristi. "I had never been that depressed in my entire life. By September I was suicidal and isolated myself from everyone, even my family and friends. And I was very irritable, but thought it was just part of quitting smoking.
In December we were planning a get-together at home and I had a psychotic episode--I wanted to hurt everyone. My husband is in construction and I picked up all the debris from the back of his pick-up and threw them at the truck, then I picked up some bricks and hurled them at his brand new Mercedes.
The neighbors called the police. They asked me if I was suicidal and I said no, I was just very angry. But they took me to a health center anyway; I couldn't function anymore…" Kristi's voice breaks. She starts to cry, but after a long moment, she carries on.
"I called my doctor and she told my husband to take me to the hospital but I didn't go," Kristi says. "Later that night I took about half a bottle of sleeping pills—that's when he took me to ER. The next day I was taken to Holly Hill, a mental health facility, where I stayed for three weeks. And I had six weeks of outpatient therapy.
"When I saw my psychiatrist again, she said Chantix didn't have anything to do with my nervous breakdown. So I have a big beef with her and of course with the drug company.
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"The only way I found out that Chantix was to blame for my psychotic episode and suicide attempt was because my mother researched Chantix online. 'You aren't going to believe this but there are many people who had the same side effects,' she said. I was shocked and really mad, at the manufacturer and my doctor; she should never have prescribed it to me.
"And to top it off, I still have to pay her bill. I already paid $5000 in cash to the mental health clinic. In just one year, my life went from being a functional good worker to being completely disabled—now I am on social security disability and it's a daily struggle. Chantix is definitely not for everyone."