Govt denies drug suicide link

Last updated 17:53 30/08/2010

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The Government is denying links between an anti-smoking drug and suicide after being accused of hypocrisy by a community action group.

Drug buying agency Pharmac declined funding for Champix two years ago citing safety concerns, but is now planning to help fund it as part of a package of four drugs with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

A lobby group, Community Action on Suicide Prevention, Education and Research (Casper), said Champix's active ingredient, Varenicline, was an antidepressant with proven links to suicide.

"In the same week the Government has expressed concern about the fact that 10 people commit suicide every week in New Zealand, it has decided to promote the use of a drug that it knows increases suicide risk," said Casper spokeswoman Maria Bradshaw, whose son Toran Henry was found dead in the garage of their North Shore in 2008, 24 hours after he was filmed being beaten up at school.

"A government committed to reducing the suicide rate would not be making these drugs more widely available to a greater number of people," she said.

But MedSafe clinical risk management senior adviser Chris James said there was no direct evidence of an association between use of Varenicline/Champix and depression or suicide.

"It is important to note that people who smoke have a higher risk of suffering from depression than the general population, even without using smoking cessation aids such as Varenicline/Champix," he said.

"Varenicline tartrate/Champix is only available on a prescription from a doctor who is assumed to have weighed the risks of a patient taking Champix against the benefits they expect it will have."

Pharmac media spokesman Simon England said the drug was initially turned down due to safety risks, but new information surfaced to mitigate those risks.

"They saw quite a lot of new information...that helped to clarify what the safety risks were and how they could be managed," he said.

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- NZPA

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