Published: May 10th, 2011
A product liability lawsuit filed against Pfizer alleges that side effects of Chantix, a medication designed to help people stop smoking, caused a Pennsylvania man to experience psychotic rage, kill his wife and then commit suicide in May 2009, leaving behind four minor children.
The Chantix murder-suicide lawsuit was filed by the estates of Sean Wain, 34, and Natalie Wain, 33 on May 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Sean Wain was prescribed Chantix to help him stop smoking. According to the complaint, he had been using the medication for about one to two weeks before he began to experience rage, which resulted in violent behavior, leading him to shoot his wife and then commit suicide on May 17, 2009.
Chantix (varenicline) was approved in the United States by the FDA in 2006, and works by reducing the positive feelings that come from cigarettes, blocking the receptors in the brain commonly stimulated by nicotine. However, the medication has been associated with an increased risk of neuropsychiatric injuries leading to behavioral changes, depression, aggression, agitation, hostility, rage, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and, in many cases, successful suicide.
The lawsuit alleges that Pfizer failed to adequately research their medication or warn about the risk of violent behavior from Chantix.
About a month after the murder-suicide, in an unrelated action, the FDA announced that the drug maker would add a “black box” warning for Chantix, indicating that some users have experienced sudden changes in behavior, depression and suicidal thoughts.
In July 2010, a study published by researchers from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices determined that not only did Chantix invoke violent and unprovoked aggressive acts from users, but the violent urges tended to be most powerful when users first start taking the drug; often before they had gotten to the point in their Chantix use where they had stopped smoking. Researchers found that violent and aggressive behavior ended for 93% of the subjects when they stopped taking Chantix.
Another Chantix study from the Institute published in December determined that Chantix was the prescription drug most associated with violent side effects. Chantix was linked to 408 reported cases of violence over a five-year period; more than double the number of instances reported for any other drug on the market in the U.S.
More than 100 Chantix lawsuits have been filed in courts throughout the United States on behalf of individuals who died or suffered serious injuries as a result of a suicide on Chantix or other unusual behavior allegedly caused by the medications.
In October 2009, the federal Chantix litigation was consolidated as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, where cases filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country are being coordinated for pretrial litigation before one judge.
According to a scheduling order issued earlier this year, the first Chantix trial is unlikely to reach a jury until at least 2012.