Three B.C.women file class action lawsuit over Pfizer quit-smoking drug

Three B.C. women have started a class-action lawsuit against Pfizer Inc. and its Canadian subsidiary, claiming that the smoking-cessation drug Champix causes depression and suicidal tendencies.

One of the women, Patricia Clow, from Victoria, is the mother of Heidi Clow, 22, who committed suicide on Oct. 4, 2009, while taking Champix, according to the writ of summons filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on Feb. 10, 2010.

The second plaintiff is Alicia Pickering, of Sechelt, who alleges in the writ that she became depressed and catatonic after taking Champix for just three weeks. She took a leave of absence from work, contemplated suicide and was ultimately hospitalized, all of which she attributes to the drug.

Three B.C. women have filed a class action lawsuit against Pfizer over a stop smoking drug they say causes suicidal tendencies as an unintended byproduct.

Three B.C. women have filed a class action lawsuit against Pfizer over a stop smoking drug they say causes suicidal tendencies as an unintended byproduct.

“If it saves even one soul from suffering the way I have, it’ll be worth it. I am outraged that this drug remains on the market,” Alicia said in a press release.

David Klein, one of two lawyers representing the class-action suit said in an interview that Pickering had no history of depression or any mental health problems.

“I can tell you that she was only on Champix for a few weeks. In fact, after just a few days she started to feel the effects. That’s a fairly typical response. It doesn’t take that long for people to be severely impacted,” Klein said.

Nicole McIvor, from Princeton, is the third plaintiff. She says that while on Champix she attempted suicide by trying to smash her car into an oncoming logging truck.

Champix is the brand name for the drug varenicline tartrate, and is sold in the United States under the brand name Chantix.

Pfizer Canada said in a statement that it stands behind Champix and that the drug that has helped many people quit smoking.

“Pfizer acted responsibly and appropriately at all times in connection with the development, approval, and marketing of Champix,” Pfizer Canada said. “The health and safety of Canadians is a priority for Pfizer, and we work closely with Health Canada to disseminate information about our products to patients and the medical community.”

According to Health Canada, the drug stimulates nicotine receptors in the brain like a weaker version of nicotine, while simultaneously preventing nicotine from binding. Sales of the drug started in Canada in April 2007, and within a year there had been 226 Canadian cases of neuropsychiatric adverse events reported to Health Canada, of a total of 708,534 prescriptions filled.

A warning was added to the drug cautioning family members to monitor people taking Champix for depression and suicidal behaviour. But for Klein, this warning does not go far enough.

“Champix was sold in Europe and the United States for about a year before it was put on sale in Canada, and in that year there were reports of psychiatric side effects and suicide, and yet the warnings are very mild on the Canadian product,” Klein said.

“The [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] required a stronger warning in the United States last year — what’s referred to as a black box warning — and Pfizer hasn’t put it on the Canadian label. The warnings on stronger in the United States, on the same product, by the same company.”

Klein hopes to either see Champix withdrawn from the market, or to have the warnings significantly strengthened on the drug.

Pfizer has not yet filed a statement of defence in the class action suit.


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