CONTENT WARNING: This post discusses depression and suicide. For help and support in Australia, please call Lifeline on 131 114 or BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636.
Champix, an anti-smoking drug that has been linked to multiple suicides, will now be tested for in certain deaths in Victoria, following a ruling handed down by the Victorian State Coroner regarding the death of a 36-year-old man from Kinglake West.
Benjamin Johnston been taking the drug for six weeks to help him quit his heavy smoking habit when he killed himself in February last year. Although he’d been treated for depression in 2010, he was displaying no signs or symptoms of mental illness when his doctor prescribed him the drug.
In the two weeks leading up to his death, he’d become withdrawn, short-tempered, was experiencing hallucinations and having trouble sleeping, according to the Coroner’s report. Both his mother and partner of 12 years believe it was the drug that killed him.
“I strongly believe that the drug Champix caused his mind to lose control,” his mother wrote in a letter to the Coroner’s Court. “Ben’s death was not suicide but an accident brought on by this drug.”
The coroner hopes that testing for the drug will provide better data to establish a link between the drug varenicline (which is marketed in Australia as Champix) and suicide; currently, no such link exists, although Fairfax reports that since it went on sale in Australia in 2008, there have been 1800 suspected cases of adverse side affects, 408 cases of depression, and 29 cases of suicide from people who were taking the drug.
The product information regarding the risks of psychiatric symptoms and their potential interaction with alcohol (Johnston had been drinking at the time of his death) is now displayed in bold font on the packaging in light of this report.
Photo: Vinca Talotta / Getty.