The drug Chantix may be linked to suicidal thoughts and depression in some people, but the risk of smoking is far worse, according to some physicians.
The health risks of smoking, including lung cancer, emphysema, stroke and heart attack, outweigh the known side effects of Chantix, said Dr. Marc Siegal, a FOX News Channel contributor.
“I still think it’s a first-line agent,” Siegal, a board certified internist and clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, told FOXNews.com. “It’s absolutely the best thing we have out there to help people stop smoking.”
The U.S. Public Health Service released its quit-smoking guidelines this week. The guidelines call Pfizer’s Chantix medication the most effective stop-smoking medication on the market, but also warn health officials to use caution when prescribing the drug due to adverse psychological side effects.
“I think the announcement is the smartest thing the government could do,” Siegal said. “Because, before I knew about the psychological risks, I was giving everyone the drug. Now I know that I don’t want to give this to patients who may be at risk for these adverse side effects.”
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist and medical director of New York University's women’s heart program, agreed that the guidelines help doctors to discern who should and should not be prescribed Chantix.
“This is a medication that probably is not for everyone,” she said. “But no medicine is for everyone.”
Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said he does not believe Chantix should be used as a first line defense for smoking cessation.
“We don’t need Chantix,” he said. “If people want to quit smoking, they should just quit smoking. We already have nicotine patches, acupuncture and [Zyban]. There’s always been a connection between depression and smoking. … We don’t need another drug. If people want to quit smoking then they should just stop. It’s not like withdrawing from alcohol or narcotics.”
Horovitz does advocate Chantix use when all else fails and only after a psychological evaluation has been conducted on the patient.
Although Siegal said he has had some patients — to whom he’s prescribed Chantix — complain about irritability and depression, he said none of his patients have experienced suicidal side effects.
Siegal and Goldberg said they will continue to prescribe the drug, but agreed that doctors should be cautious in recommending Chantix to patients who have a history of mental illness and patients currently taking medications for depression. Siegal pointed out that once Chantix is stopped, so do the side effects.
“One of the biggest messages we need to get out there is that all medications have side effects,” Goldberg said. “There’s also a lot of information out there on the down side of medicine and this makes people want to stop taking certain medicines. But patients need to share all information with their doctors and talk with their doctors so that they can better understand why or why not a particular medication has been prescribed to them and whether or not they should continue taking that medication or stop it.”
All three doctors said regardless of whether people use Chantix, some other medication or will-power, quitting smoking is the most important thing a person can do for their health.
“It is the worst health habit you can do,” Horovitz said. “It’s worse than alcohol and being fat.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 400,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related deaths. Goldberg said 178,000 women die from smoking related diseases annually and a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Academy found that smoking increases a woman's risk for heart disease seven-fold.
Siegal said more studies on Chantix, especially long-term studies, are needed going forward.