Over the past few years, scientists have had extremely high
aspirations for a new category of medications used to treat addiction. The
medications work in a new way to eliminate cravings by bonding with receptors
in the brain to block pleasure a person receives from the undesired habit. The
most publicized of these medications is probably Pfizer’s smoking cessation
medication Chantix, sold in other countries as Champix. Chantix has been hailed
by many as a wonder drug that allowed them to kick a terrible habit they have
had for years, but others have described their experience with Chantix as a
nightmare. Chantix has been linked to depression, dozens of suicides, and
hundreds of accounts of suicidal behavior among other adverse reactions. These
reactions have placed damper on the expectations for this new class of drugs,
that now it seems to have a darker side.
Two other drugs from this new class have also been plagued
by similar adverse reactions. Rimonabant, sold as Acomplia, is an obesity
medication sold in Europe and has been linked to depression and a suicide by
study published last month. Acomplia has not been approved for sale in the US.
Taranabant, a similar drug being developed by Merck was also tied to depression
and other side effects by study last month. Merck has stopped testing the drug
at medium and high doses due to concerns.
The makers of the new drugs insist they are safe, although
perhaps not for everyone, such as people with a history of depression. Having
to restrict the drugs’ use would be a big setback because it would deprive the
very people who need help the most, since addictions and depression often go
hand-in-hand, doctors say.
Some believe that the entire approach may be flawed. While
the medications are blocking the pleasurable effects of the addiction, they
also believe that the drugs may be blocking almost all pleasure, taking the fun
out of life and in turn leading to depression.