Pharmaceutical

More veterans enrolled in Chantix study than originally revealed

George J. Lisicki, a Vietnam combat veteran and national commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), had harsh words for the Veterans Administration (VA) today.

“Those in the VA who failed to properly notify America’s veterans that their medication could produce fatal side effects must resign their positions,” Lisicki said. “If not, then the VA secretary must take decisive action to terminate their employment.”

Lisicki issued the off-with-their-heads statement in response to reports (link) that the VA may have acted irresponsibly in its study of Chantix using veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The VA originally said that 940 veterans with PTSD were enrolled in the study, but only 143 of them were receiving Chantix. (link) However, The Washington Times revealed the number of PTSD veterans receiving Chantix was actually 68 percent higher than the VA originally acknowledged: 241, as opposed to 143.

Of the 241 test subjects, there were 114 reported adverse effects, including 22 psychiatric events.

The VA also prescribed Chantix to some 32,000 other veterans. From that group, 27 were admitted to VA hospitals for apparent psychiatric disorders. Among those, 11 had attempted suicide, 9 had suicidal thoughts, six suffered from hallucinations, and 1 attempted homicide.

Last month, ABC News and The Washington Times revealed (link) the VA’s failure to notify the study’s veterans about the potential psychiatric hazards of Chantix until three months after the FDA’s initial warnings.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs James B. Peake, M.D. insists that the VA has nothing but the veterans’ best interests in mind in determining courses of treatment. After the joint ABC News / Washington Times broke, allegations emerged implying that big pharmaceutical companies and universities may be funding and compromising VA research and care. Dr. Peake called the allegations “ridiculous.”

Still, Dr. Peake has ordered four internal investigations of the Chantix study and the VA’s general operations, ostensibly to safeguard against repeating similar blunders in the future.

To Lisicki and many veterans, the VA’s neglect in informing PTSD veterans about the dangers of Chantix, followed by the administration’s unapologetic attitude, is inexcusable.

Professional ethics and common sense just dictate that clinicians would stop their patients from taking the drug just to err on the side of safety for the veterans and their families,” Lisicki said.

If the VA tests Chantix on veterans with PTSD, then how would it be able to determine if the emotional and behavioral problems are caused by the drug or the psychological trauma? Wouldn’t being able to differentiate between two possible causes determine the best course of treatment?

Aren’t our veterans worthy of an administration that treats them with genuine care and, perhaps above all, compassion?