FAU researchers find anti-smoking drug safe for public use

Chantix was once thought to cause users to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts.


Photo of Charles Hennekens courtesy of Florida Atlantic University College of Medicine.

Ryan Lynch, Editor in Chief

An anti-smoking drug which was once listed by the Food and Drug Administration as dangerous is now being called a safe way to quit smoking, according to a new commentary from the FAU Charles E. Schmidt School of Medicine.

Varenicline, which is commonly known as Chantix, was approved in 2006 as a safe way for smokers to quit their habit. But in 2009, a black box warning issued by the FDA said the drug could be dangerous to users due to the potential for depression and suicidal thoughts while using it.

According to the commentary, the researchers said that the black box classification was given on evidence from eight small clinical trials. To establish the effects, the researchers said it would require more tests and larger test groups.

A recent test with 8,000 long-term smokers of 12 weeks found that both those with and without a mental health condition did not see their symptoms worsen or begin during their use of the drug. The study included an equal amount of people with and without mental health issues.

“The existing totality of evidence suggests an urgent need to increase the use of varenicline in the general population as well as in those with serious mental illness who on average die about 20 years earlier than the general population, in part, because their smoking rates may be as high as 75 percent,” Charles Hennekens, a senior adviser to the College of Medicine dean, said in the release on the research.

The authors of the study wrote that following the drug being given its black box classification, use of Chantix dropped 76 percent. The researchers speculated that if this hadn’t taken place, the drug could have prevented a yearly average of 17,000 premature deaths due to cardiovascular disease caused by smoking.

The commentary was compiled by Hennekens, fourth-year medical student Dianna Gaballa and associate professor of integrated medical science and associate chair of the Department of Integrated Medical Science Joanna Drowos.

Ryan Lynch is the editor in chief of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @RyanLynchwriter .