Free Chantix Prescriptions: Utah Residents Risk Serious Side Effects

Richard Burke | March 24th, 2011

A new Utah program may contribute to dangerous behavioral changes and suicidal thoughts among residents of the Beehive State.

Thanks to a new voucher program to help citizens quit smoking, Utah smokers now can get free Chantix prescriptions.

A full 12-week course of Chantix (varenicline) usually costs more than $400, or $4 per day. Experts say the drug is successful, at least in the short term, for 44 percent of people who use Chantix.

Chantix side effects still pose dangers

But the Chantix side effects are the reason for why it is regularly cited as one of the most dangerous prescription drugs on the market.

A 2010 study by the medical journal PloS ONE linked Chantix to more acts of violence than any other pharmaceutical on the market. In 2008, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) found that Chantix had been linked to more reports of injury than the ten best-selling brand name drugs combined.

Chantix was cleared by the FDA in 2006. It wasn’t until 2009 that the FDA required Chantix to carry a “black box” warning for Chantix side effects such as changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Today, more than 1,200 Chantix lawsuits have amassed against Pfizer in US courts. The new Utah voucher program could add to the mounting litigation, especially if Utah clinics hand out Chantix prescriptions without exercising due diligence.  Chantix lawyers continue to evaluate cases nationwide as violence and injuries are reported.

According to experts, Chantix side effects are most severe in people who have preexisting psychological problems such as depression or bipolar disorder. It is unclear exactly how Utah health clinics will vet smokers, many of them uninsured and possibly undiagnosed, before handing out free Chantix prescriptions.

The Utah Department of Health says tobacco costs Utah taxpayers $369 million in medical expenses and $294 million in lost productivity every year. While some Utah residents have complained about paying to “cure” smokers, the free prescription Chantix program will undoubtedly cost taxpayers much less than smoking costs the community.

But it’s unclear if the program will work. It’s even less clear that free prescription Chantix won’t cause more problems than already exist.