My Personal Chantix Story

by Dr. Antonio Howell, MD

in Blog, quit smoking, varenicline

Dr. Howell

Have you heard about the quit smoking pill CHANTIX® (varenicline)?

I remember when I first heard about the pill in the fall of 2006. I was a surgery resident in St Louis and a friend, who was a Family Practice physician, told me about CHANTIX (varenicline) a Pfizer pill to help people quit smoking. I quickly went to the internet to learn about this pill and researched everything I could about the medicine.

I blogged about CHANTIX® (varenicline). I initially did it mainly for myself as a way to take notes about this new pill. Google offered a free blogging software (Blogger or blogspot.com) which I used. In retrospect I wished I would have used my own blog but that is another story.


So, I was blogging about CHANTIX® (varenicline) and readers began leaving comments which was great.


I perceived CHANTIX® (varenicline) as the best thing since slice bread. I thought that Pfizer, who also marketed VIAGRA® (sildenafil), had another blockbuster drug in CHANTIX® (varenicline).

But then I started seeing comments on my blog like the following:

“My husband who has never had ANY mental health problems, tried to take his own life after being on [CHANTIX® (varenicline)] for 13 days. He has no recollection of the day it happened.”

Another wrote:


“My brother in law committed suicide Aug 19. He had taken [CHANTIX® (varenicline)] and went off it in the spring, then we found out he had started retaking it 7 days before his suicide.”

And another wrote:

“2 days upon stopping, I went into a complete meltdown of suicidal thoughts, depression, crying for no reason, panic, agitation, lack of concentration….it was a nightmare.”

Other similar comment from other readers followed. I was shocked and horrified to say the least. My initial enthusiasm about the pill vanished and I began re-thinking my professional opinion about the drug. But before I could do anything the unexpected happened.

On Sept 3, 2007 a musician named Carter Albrecht was shot and killed by his neighbor. Carter and his girlfriend Ryann Rathbone had begun taking CHANTIX® (varenicline) to quit smoking the week prior. Ryann states that the night before Carter began acting strangely and became increasingly aggressive towards her and according to her this was out of character for him.

As one thing led to another Ms. Rathbone became afraid of Carter and locked him out of her apartment. What followed can only be described as tragic. Mr. Albrecht began knocking on his next door neighbor’s door in the pre-dawn hours of Sept. 3rd 2007. The neighbor awakened by the loud banging and yelling on his front door fired a warning shot through the door. Unfortunately Mr. Carter who was 6′ 5″ was killed instantly by a bullet to the head.

The following day on Sept. 4th another blogger Mr. Paul McEnany wrote on his Hee- Haw-Marketing blog about this unfortunate incident and he quoted the above comments from my readers in his post. And suddenly the traffic to my blog tripled I supposed it was partly because Mr McEnany’s post, Mr. Carter’s celebrity status and an increasing interest about the strange side-effects reported by patients taking CHANTIX® (varenicline). Whatever the reason I started hearing from all sorts of people including reporters.

On Sept. 13 Darla Atlas of People magazine contacted me wanting to do a story about CHANTIX® (varenicline). Some Morning show in NY wanted me to debate the pros and cons of Chantix on their show. On Tuesday, November 20, 2007 a CBS producer named Dorie Klissas contacted regarding a story they wanted to run about CHANTIX® (varenicline) side effects. Derek de Koff of New York Magazine contacted me prior to writing his first person account on his experience with Chantix. Again I digress….

Here is the bottom line – Pfizer made a colossal mistake releasing CHANTIX® (varenicline) without adequate warning regarding this drug’s lethal side effects. Here is what we now know about CHANTIX® (varenicline):

  • CHANTIX® (varenicline) SHOULD NOT BE a first line drug for treating people who want to quit tobacco. One should try other methods to quit before trying CHANTIX® (varenicline).
  • CHANTIX® (varenicline) SHOULD NOT BE take by patients without close medical supervision. A medical professional would be able to tell if subtle changes to your personality are occurring. You will NOT be able to see these changes on your own.
  • CHANTIX® (varenicline) SHOULD NEVER, EVER be sold online. Ever! (see above).
  • We must NEVER FORGET the tragic stories of Carter Albrecht and others and learn our lessons from their loss.


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