Japan - demand for Chantix (Champix) soars while more and more lawsuits pile up in the U.S..

January 5, 2010 - Demand for the smoking cessation drug Chantix is skyrocketing in Japan, following a recent tax increase on cigarettes and due to a lack of publicity about the drug’s links to suicide and violent behavior.

Japan has always been a haven for smokers, with very few restrictions on where people can smoke and some of the lowest tobacco prices of an industrialized nation. However, that is changing as a new tax increased the cost of tobacco products in Japan and there are now more restrictions on smoking. This has led to a sudden increase in the number of Japanese who are trying to quit smoking, with many choosing to use Pfizer’s Chantix, known there as Champix, which has been heavily marketed by the drug maker in the country.

At the same time sales are soaring in Japan, they are plummeting in the United States amid growing reports of serious psychological side effects of Chantix, including an increased risk of suicide, suicide attempts and unusual aggressive behavior. In the first nine months of 2010, sales of Chantix in the U.S. dropped nearly 17%, to $252 million, and the number of people who have filed a Chantix lawsuit over injuries allegedly caused by the prescription drug has steadily climbed.

In Japan, there has been very little coverage of reported suicides on Chantix, and sales have been rapidly increasing. In September, sales of Chantix in Japan jumped from about 70,000 to more than 170,000. The increase was even greater in October, when new laws went into effect that raised the price of a pack of cigarettes about one-third; from 300 yen ($3.60) to 400 yen ($4.80).

Pfizer was unprepared for the rush of Japanese seeking to kick the habit, according to a report by the New York Times, and new prescriptions for Chantix were recently suspended when Pfizer ran out of starter packs. This month, the company predicts that they will have about 450,000 starter packs available for Japanese prescriptions. (In Japan, Pfizer Is Short of Drug to Help Smokers by HIROKO TABUCHI, The New York Times, 1/3/2011)

Meanwhile In the United States nearly 1,200 lawsuits nationwide against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. over its anti-smoking drug Chantix are being handled in U.S. District Court in Birmingham. U.S. District Judge Inge Johnson is overseeing pre-trial activity in the cases in which smokers and their families claim that Chantix left them with a variety of psychological problems. The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in late 2009 assigned the cases to Johnson, who was already handling two of the cases.

More suits are being filed daily from across the country. Since Johnson was appointed, the number of Chantix cases filed in federal court has grown from 37 to nearly 1,200 as of Monday, January 3rd according to court records. Last week, 26 were filed and a few officials said the number is expected to eventually top 2,000 cases. (Birmingham court to oversee Pfizer lawsuits by Kent Faulk, The Birmingham News, 1/4/2011.)

Chantix (Champix, varenicline) has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of adverse effects ranging from vivid dreams to heart troubles, vision loss, accidents, diabetes, mental confusion, loss of consciousness and psychotic episodes. Suicide-related events have been reported in patients taking varenicline who have no known pre-existing psychiatric conditions and in some patients who continued to smoke. linked to suicidal behavior and other psychiatric problems, should bear the Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) strongest safety warning.

Chantix was approved by the FDA in 2006 and works by blocking receptors in the brain that are commonly stimulated by nicotine, reducing the positive feelings that come from cigarettes. However, shortly after the drug was introduced, hundreds of people began to report severe Chantix side effects, including violent and self-destructive behavior.

In July (July 1, 2009), the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) mandated that its most serious safety warning – a Black Box – regarding psychiatric side effects be included on the Chantix label. According to The Washington Post, the FDA said psychiatric side effects seen among Chantix users included 98 reports of suicide and 188 reports of attempted suicide.

Some patients using Champix have also experienced serious skin reactions, including angioedema, characterized by swelling under the skin that can be fatal, and other severe skin reactions,

Chantix (Varenicline) - Adverse Event Reports - Death - Completed Suicide

Reference: Despite Risk of Problems with Chantix, Demand Soars in Japan, AboutLawsuits.com, 1/4/2011.

Some Chantix (Champix) related news briefs:
Champix (Chantix) - Health Canada issues stronger warnings..;
Champix (Chantix) - Canada class-action lawsuit started..;
Champix (Chantix) - more serious psychiatric reactions and death..;
Smoking Cessation - Chantix (Champix) vs. Cold Turkey..;
Chantix - Pfizer faces three lawsuits surely many more to come..;
Champix (Chantix) - the risks are greater then the benefits..;
Chantix - another wrongful death lawsuit filed..;
Anti-smoking drugs (non-nicotine) - Chantix and Zyban to carry mental health warnings..;
Another Chantix Warning in Canada..;
Operators of any form of transportation warned on the use of Pfizer's smoking-cessation drug Chantix..;
Pfizer Changes Chantix Label..;
Chantix Reports of Suicidal Thoughts and Aggressive and Erratic Behavior..;