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Scott Kappes
Scott Kappes
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Former VA Secretary Turned Lobbyist, Questioned VA About Chantix

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A new report from the Washington Times today claims that
former Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi called on his friends at the
VA for answers concerning Pfizer’s smoking cessation medication, Chantix.
Pricipi now works as a chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant and
reportedly contacted his former colleagues to inquire whether Chantix would
remain on the VA’s approved list of medications after the drug had been linked
to serious side effects.

The contact allegedly occurred shortly after the FAA removed
Chantix from the list of medications that are acceptable for pilots and air
traffic controllers to take, and Principi was apparently asked by Pfizer to use
his connections to get the inside scoop on whether the VA was considering
similar action. Pfizer maintains that Principi’s actions did constitute
lobbying.

Last month the Washington Times broke a story that some
32,000 veterans who were taking Chantix as apart of a VA smoking cessation
study who were not notified of FDA labeling changes made to Chantix in February.
The labeling changes included warnings that Chantix had been linked to serious nueropsychiatric events, suicidal ideation, and completed suicide. The updated
label also warned that these conditions could be exacerbated by preexisting
mental conditions. Many of the veterans taking Chantix had recently returned
from Iraq and were suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), making
them prime candidates to experience adverse events related to Chantix. The VA did finally notify the patients taking Chantix, but only after one Iraq veteran was nearly gunned down by police
while experiencing a psychotic episode allegedly induced by Chantix.

A review of the VA database used to track adverse events
associated with Chantix the agency found 27 patients that had been hospitalized
for psychiatric problems while taking Chantix. The 27 were made up of 11
attempted suicides, one attempted homicide, nine accounts of suicidal ideation,
and six cases of patients suffering from hallucinations.

Today the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held the
first hearing on the subject, entitled “Why Does the VA Continue to Give a Suicide-Inducing Drug to Veterans with PTSD?” It will be interesting to see
just how much attention this gets by the national media. Chantix truly is a
dangerous drug for some people, while others champion it as a lifesaver. But I
think that everyone can agree, any drug that has been know to be linked to
serious adverse effects and it is know that those effects can be exacerbated by
mental illness, should not be given to veterans suffering from PTSD.