There’s strong evidence that a popular smoking cessation drug led to a Canadian soldier’s psychotic episode, a Manitoba judge has concluded.
In 2011, Malcolm Gallant, a 30-year-old Canadian Forces member, choked his girlfriend and took guns to a neighbour’s house, according to QMI. But at this week’s sentencing hearing Justice Shawn Greenberg gave him a conditional discharge — essentially allowing him to avoid conviction if he abides by certain conditions.
It wouldn’t be the first time Champix, which is sold as Chantix in the U.S., has been linked to violence. The product contains the active ingredient varenicline, which, according to the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, binds brain receptors to reduce nicotine reward and inhibit your smoking pleasure.
The treatment represents a very different approach to smoking cessation. Unlike patches and chewing gum, Champix delivers no nicotine to the aspiring quitter.
Instead, it suppresses the pleasure one associates with smoking.
As reported by CBC News, Health Canada has received more than 2,000 complaints about serious side effects from Champix since it was approved in this country in 2008 — with more than half of those complaints being psychological in nature.
A 2012 Toronto Star investigation suggested the number of cases of people having suicidal thoughts while on Champix was nearly three times as high as the next drug.
“When you have something like this, it does behoove investigators to study it more fully and ascertain if, in fact, this signal is accurate,” Dr. Peter Selby from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health told the newspaper.
For its part, the maker of Champix, Pfizer Canada, includes an insert in each box listing potential symptoms such as psychosis, mood swings, depression, aggression and suicidal behaviour.
And in May 2013, Health Canada announced key changes to the statements found in those pamphlets. Namely, that users consider trying nicotine replacement therapy — patches, chewing gum, etc — before Champix or a similar product called Zyban.
In the case of Malcolm Gallant, who was reportedly prescribed Champix, the judge noted a severe change his behaviour.
Earlier, the court heard his girlfriend testify that he tore his shirt into pieces and chased and choked her, CTV News reports. Gallant then menaced neighbours with a shotgun.
“I’m a normal, law-abiding young man who had been taking prescription medication and had consumed alcohol,” Gallant told the court. “For that, I’m sorry to every person I hurt and scared that horrible night.”
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