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A Month Later, Carter Albrecht's Chantix Use Is Now a National Cautionary Tale

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Every day, at least one person posts a comment to our first item about Chantix, the smoking-cessation drug that is being blamed, at least partially, for Carter Albrecht's violent behavior on the morning of September 3. Since Albrecht's band mate and house mate Danny Balis first mentioned the drug, the day after Albrecht was killed, it's become the subject of much discussion locally and nationally -- is it a blessing or a curse?

The story makes this week's People magazine, with Kate McCann (mother of the missing Madeline) on the cover). The story, which is not online, bears the headline "A New Drug for Smokers is a Dream for Some, a Nightmare for Others," and, once again, it chronicles Albrecht's use of the drug and girlfriend Ryann Rathbone's assertion that "he kind of zoned out and had no idea who I was, like he was in one of the nightmares he'd been having." And the story does little to knock down Pfizer's assertions that Chantix is harmless when taken properly:

Odd dreams caused by a powerful drug are one thing; aggressive outbursts are quite another and "infrequent," says Pfizer. ...

While cases of aggression and disorientation were reported during clinical trials and are mentioned as possible side effects (along with more common nausea and depression), [Dr. Doug Vanderburg, a medical director for Pfizer] points out that violent tendencies may have existed in patients before they began taking Chantix. "Our safety data to date do not suggest a causal relationship between violent behavior and Chantix," he says. Dr. Sandra Kweder of the Food and Drug Administration (which approved Chantix in May 2006) says the drug's real side effects won't be fully understood until more patients try it and report back. "With this one we're not that far along in our scientific knowledge," says Kweder.

One person who says she knew enough to stop taking Chantix is Deborah Johnson, 36, an Oregon musician who began taking the blue pills last February. Johnson says the drug left her "confused and agitated." One night after drinking wine, she suddenly felt frantic. "I grabbed the kitchen knife and cut one wrist; I felt compelled to do it," she says.

The story also says Albrecht's parents have no intention of suing Pfizer: "They just want other potential users to hear their son's story first and be alert to possible changes in behavior." --Robert Wilonsky

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