Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I want another option

While caring for a patient trying to quit smoking, a doctor noticed that the patient's ataxia symptoms and balance improved. Sweet!

I found this out in an email from the Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance, which also told me that a study of the smoking-cessation drug -- varenicline -- was looking for participants.

It was a double-blind study, so in the first phase I would not even necessarily get the drug, but I would be assured of getting it during the 2.5-month phase 2. It was in Philadelphia, so it wasn't far and they give you $150 for each of the eight required trips to the clinic. I told Mom about it and said I wanted to do it.

They didn't really list side effects, but I figured it was an FDA-approved drug already; how bad can they be?

Pretty freaking bad, it turns out.

The story offerings that popped up when I clicked on varenicline in my email took me to New Zealand. It seems that the New Zealand government had just added "a new warning on mental health risks" to the drug, known as Champix. Depression and suicidal thoughts were real possibilities, New Zealand decided.

Who cares, I thought; New Zealanders are just not tough like me.

But then I googled Chantix, which is what the drug's brand name is here, it actually got worse.

The drug works by blocking the nicotine receptors in the brain so the nicotine does not give you pleasure. I take anti-depressants, but I think in general it is a bad idea to screw with the brain.

Last year, the FDA said "it appears increasingly likely that there may be an association between Chantix and serious neuropsychiatric symptoms." Later the FAA said pilots and air traffic controllers could not use it. The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog reported a big drop in Chantix prescriptions.

The kicker for me was an article in New York Magazine by a reporter who took the drug. It was good, and had a disappointing look at drug trials. Not surprising, just disappointing. But I did not get to the end of the article; I had to stop when he started talking about the suicides.

I get suicide.

I understand the appeal of wanting pains and sadness and frustrations to end. But when you get further than that, to talk of actually killing yourself, I start to feel really oogy and sick to my stomach.

Needless to say I won't be joining this study. In addition to the psychiatric issues, there also side effects of nausea, diarrhea and constipation, so forget it.

With my luck, this drug will kick Friedreich's ataxia's ass, and I will have to choose whether to be suicidal or wobbly.


Tony said...

What we need is for some researchers to do a study on the effects of free-basing Smurfberry Crunch on FA.

Anonymous said...

Do they even make that stuff any more and this leads me to a questio i've been meaning to ask. Was the color of your room in FC deliberately chosen to be smurf blue?

Matt Trott said...

I don't think they still make Smurfberry Crunch. We'd have to get orphan drug status. And no, we did not choose smurf blue! I am not sure why we picked it.

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