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Chantix: Parents and Police Intervened

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Attleboro Falls, MA"I started smoking when I was sixteen because I wanted to fit in," says Ryan, now 28 years old. "A few years ago I wanted to quit for health and social reasons: I started coughing and none of my friends smoked anymore, so my doctor gave me a sample package of Chantix."

Before he took Chantix, also known as varenicline, Ryan tried Wellbutrin, originally designed as an antidepressant, to help quit smoking. Chantix, on the other hand, works similarly to an antidepressant, but it is not FDA-approved as such. According to Medi-Lexicon, the smoking cessation drug works by binding with a specific receptor in the brain, making it impossible for nicotine to act on it and thereby helps to ease nicotine cravings. But for some people, particularly those with a history of mental health problems, it does a lot more…

Ryan started on a full dose of Chantix after one week of taking the drug—you are supposed to stop smoking during the second week. "I didn't know at first that I started to act oddly," Ryan says, "but people around me noticed. They asked me why I was so emotional? It didn't occur to me that Chantix had anything to do with it; my doctor had given me a drug and I considered it safe, so of course it would never occur to me that Chantix could be to blame for my behavior.

"But it got worse, to the point where I was having delusions. I was getting very paranoid, thinking that people were out to get me. I was afraid to leave my house, and at the end, I ultimately wanted to take my life…"

Thankfully, although he has his own apartment, Ryan lives with his parents. His mother and father intervened when they noticed Ryan's "extremely erratic and psychotic" behavior. They first thought Ryan was on drugs, but Chantix was the only drug he was taking.

"Against my will, they had me committed to the psychiatric hospital," says Ryan. "My parents had no choice—they called the police. Here in Massachusetts there are laws where the police can intervene to stop people from harming themselves and can take them to a hospital under full watch, 24/7, until they can find a psychiatric hospital that will take you.

"Once I was in the hospital, I found out that there was nothing wrong with me. The doctors knew all about Chantix and took me off it right away. Within a week I was back to normal, with no more suicidal ideations. If not for my parents and the police, if I lived alone, I would probably not be here right now to tell this story.

"I told my doctor, the doctor who gave me the Chantix sample, what happened. 'Oh dear, this happens to some people,' she said. 'Why didn't you tell me about these side effects?' I asked her. 'Well, I didn't think that you had any mental health issues,' she replied.

"But she did know that I was depressed as a teenager. I was institutionalized with depression when I was 14 and I took antidepressants until I was about 18. A doctor goes to school for more than seven years to learn about drugs and side effects (you would hope!) and other adverse drug issues, so they should have to warn their patients about Chantix. Either my doctor didn't read my medical records or she did read them and didn't think it mattered; possibly because I have been OK for the past ten years.

"Regardless, if Chantix works for some people—and I know it has helped many people to quit smoking—it should be on the market. However, there should be very bold, black box warnings saying that anyone who has a history of mental illness, or any mental health issues, should not take this drug—ever. Smoking cigarettes would likely be healthier for them.

"I am going to try to quit smoking again, soon, but this time with the nicotine patch. Summer will soon be here and I want to be able to enjoy the season at its fullest. And I want to be able to enjoy life at its fullest."

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