VA testing Chantix on veterans with Post Traumatic Stress

Today, ABC News and The Washington Times uncovered a story that, if proven true, exposes some enormously unethical conduct in our nation’s leadership.

According to the news organizations, the Veterans Administration chose to administer Chantix to 140 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), ignoring Food and Drug Administration warnings that the drug has been linked to vivid dreams, psychiatric illnesses, and suicide, to name just a handful of the drug’s potential adverse effects.

The VA waited more than three months before it began notifying the veterans of the dangers of Chantix. Even then, the attitude was rather flip. Dr. Miles McFall, one of the VA study’s administrators, told ABC news that the drug warnings “didn’t justify an emergency warning at that level.” Dr. McFall said this even after one of the study’s subjects suffered from a severe mental collapse after he began taking Chantix.

38-year-old James Elliot, a US Army sniper, snapped one night and left his house with a loaded gun. His fiancée called police, warning them that Elliot was a soldier with PTSD and had left the house in a mentally unstable condition. Police Tasered Elliot and placed him under arrest that night.

When Elliot learned that the VA had withheld the Chantix warnings from him and others in the study, he told ABC news that he felt like a “Lab rat, guinea pig, disposable hero.”

The VA notified the soldiers taking Chantix three weeks after Elliot’s incident. In its letter to the PTSD veterans, the VA stated that Chantix had been linked to adverse side effects, including “anxiety, nervousness, tension, depression, thoughts of suicide, and attempted and completed suicide.”

The Chantix study is just one in 25 studies that the VA is conducting on our veterans. It’s understandable that the side effects of new drugs do not become fully known for months or even years after their debut on the market. However, withholding known drug warnings, especially from veterans with PTSD, is unconscionable.

Arthur Caplan, director for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s top medical ethicists, expressed his feelings about this case to ABC News. “How this study continued in the face of these difficulties is almost impossible to understand … Why take the group most a risk and keep them going? That doesn’t make any sense, once you know the risk is there,” he said.