Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Do Be Careful on Chantix - Part Four, Pilots and Drivers Edition

Today is Smoke-free Day 345, and while I have had excellent success on Chantix, it's probably time once again for another installment of Do Be Careful on Chantix. This will be Part Four. Part One is: here, Part Two is: here, and Part Three is: here. It kind of boggles my mind and also sort of saddens me to hear that for some the Chantix experience of quitting smoking seems to be an entirely different experience from my own and from so many of my fellow Chantix bloggers, many of whom are also approaching a year quit.

My experience on Chantix and my journey not smoking since Chantix is all over this blog, which is searchable, by the way, up there at the top, if you are looking for something in particular, but in a nutshell (because nutshells are my favorite) I had a little gas (OK, honestly, kind of a lot of gas, sometimes at embarrassing times), nausea that came and went but could mostly be kept at bay with timing of dosing, crazy dreams the first several weeks but otherwise just less of a desire to smoke, just as the drug was intended. I've said it was not a magic miracle wonder drug pill that made quitting entirely easy, but it did make my experience far easier than the other numerous times I'd quit cold turkey or with the patch or gum, etc. I remain grateful every single day that it worked for me when I was only lukewarm about giving it a try, even if it did require my full cooperation, energy, attention and effort in conjunction with the drug once it started working enough that I was actually sure I was ready to quit, which for me was on Chantix Day 13 because, like plenty of people, I wasn't ready on Day 8 (a topic that sometimes gets me all in a lather and makes me feel like writing open letters to doctors because I'm apparently that easily excitable).

Apparently not everyone has the same kind of relatively smooth (still difficult, but without any super scary side effects) Chantix ride as I and lots of others like my fellow Chantix bloggers have had. Enough so that last Wednesday, May 21st, the FAA announced it is banning use of Chantix by both pilots and air traffic controllers. Wow. I mean, I get it that these are the folks that you definitely want to have alert and without any goofy side effects going on, but I was still sort of surprised, again just because I personally (yes, I know that's not everybody, just explaining my own surprise at the news) never had any issue on Chantix that prevented me from activities like driving (not that I was operating heavy machinery or flying planes, but that was for other reasons like not knowing how).

Here is a snippet from the Forbes.com article linked above (and here):

The report, from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, points out hundreds of serious problems reported since the popular drug was approved in May 2006, including dizziness, loss of consciousness, seizures, and abnormal spasms and movements.

"We have immediate safety concerns about the use of varenicline (Chantix) among persons operating aircraft, trains, buses and other vehicles, or in other settings where a lapse in alertness or motor control could lead to massive, serious injury," the researchers said in the report.

FAA spokesman Les Dorr said the Chantix ban is effective immediately and that the agency was notifying unions representing pilots and controllers. He said the FAA is unaware of any aviation accident caused or contributed to by Chantix.

Of course, Pfizer points out in this Wall Street Journal Health Blog article how rare complications on Chantix are considering the number of people who've taken it:
Pfizer told the WSJ the Institute’s findings are consistent with the drug’s label, which lists many of the events cited in the Institute’s report as “infrequent” or “rare,” and aren’t unusual given that more than five million Americans have taken the medicine.
There is also an article on WebMD mentioning the number of pilots and air traffic controllers known to have been taking Chantix as well as similar possible restrictions for truck drivers and bus drivers. In general, this article gives a nice overview of the situation as it has unfolded to this point. Here are some snippets:
The quit-smoking drug Chantix is being grounded for pilots and air traffic controllers, and Chantix use may be reason for medical examiners to disqualify interstate truckers and bus drivers.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ruled on Wednesday that "Chantix was no longer acceptable for use by pilots and controllers," FAA spokesperson Les Dorr tells WebMD. And the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration -- the branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation that oversees trucking and busing -- has told medical advisors that Chantix use could put the brakes on an interstate truck or bus driver's medical fitness for duty.
And this (timing probably kind of sucks if you are a few weeks into being quit by using Chantix, and suddenly have to stop taking it and also miss 3 days of work):
The FAA knows of about 150 pilots and 30 air traffic controllers taking Chantix or have taken the drug in the past, notes Dorr, adding that the FAA told pilots and air traffic controllers to stop taking Chantix and to wait 72 hours before going back to work or flying.
And this (on the second page of the article):

The FMCSA hasn't banned Chantix for truckers or bus drivers. In a statement emailed to WebMD, the FMCSA says it defers to doctors and health care professionals to determine drivers' medical fitness for duty, including the possible impact of medication use.

FMCSA regulations don't single out medications. But the FMCSA states that "it appears that medical examiners should not certify a driver taking Chantix because the medication may adversely affect the driver's ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle."

I am not a medical doctor or in charge of safety regulations at any level; I'm just someone who found much success quitting smoking using Chantix, and it makes me wonder if these restrictions are entirely necessary or if they are going kind of overboard. I'm being a weenie and not weighing in either way, really, because it's obvious that if certain people suddenly experienced the kinds of issues mentioned while in the middle of doing their jobs it could be disastrous, but are these complications any more common than someone having a heart attack or stroke or some other suddenly debilitating issue while working in these kinds of jobs? I don't know the answer. I'd be curious to know.

Meanwhile, I feel bad that some who might be able to benefit from Chantix now possibly can't because of occupation, but I do get it that if it is true that these issues are happening due to Chantix that safety is important enough to do or say something. My question is how much and whether or not this is too much. I'd like to think that people would pay careful attention to how their bodies react to Chantix before participating in something like flying a plane and that people would also continue to pay close attention to anything that doesn't seem quite right while on any medication taken under the care of a real live medical doctor. I hope that anyone wanting to quit smoking finds whatever method works best to turn the hope into reality because it's worth it. For me, that method was Chantix. For others it might have to be something else.


  1. Yeah. I've read that some people have trouble with Chantix. I'm so glad you are not one of them and that it has worked so well for you.
    Yeah you!!!

  2. Thanks for this post Maggie, I'm going to link this post to one that I'm writing for my blog.
    You did a good job!
    You are amazing, I remember you from the very beginning of my quit, you are my hero in my endeavor to quit, if you could do it then I could.........you have been there everyday for me, rooting me on, celebrating my successes - I cannot thank you enough.

    Chantix was my miracle drug and I wouldn't hesitate to go back on it if I felt especially weak. I always have some at hand should I need it.

    You are about a month away from a one year anniversary - 1 YEAR, OMG, that's fantastic, completely, utterly FANTASTIC!!!!

  3. Maggie, this was really an interesting article. A lot of pilots smoke! I would always see em lighting up before take off in the smoking sections! They could always direct me to the hidden smoking areas in airports when I was desperate to light up.

    I am so glad that Chantix worked for us and we are still kinda sane! Truthfully, I do not know how sane I was at the start of this journey but at least I am not strung out on nicotine anymore! I cannot believe its gonna be a year for you! Its amazing that I am so close behind you.

  4. Hi Maggie.
    Thanks for writing your blog. It's been a big help for me.

    I've been reading it off and on for quite some time now.

    I'm currently into my 12th day of my 4th quit this year. All of them have been with chantix.
    They've lasted anywhere from two weeks to two months.

    My big problem with chantix was the depression. Not a "boo-hoo I just can't go on" depression, but just a general lethargy, apathy, and inability to get off the couch. So I would inevitably stop taking the chantix and start smoking again just so I could "feel normal".

    This time I'm combining chantix with wellbutrin and so far that seems to be keeping me at an even keel. As a matter of fact, one of the drawbacks is I can't seem to sleep for very long and I'm missing out on alot of cool chantix dreams.

    Anyways, I don't want to turn this into a book (too late :)) but I wanted to say thanks for sharing your experience with us. The hardest part about initially quitting is the fear of the unknown, and by publishing what you were going through you gave me a good idea of what to expect and made it easier to get over that initial hump.

  5. Thank you all. Every bit of support helps, and I'm so happy for all of us making it!

    Snake doctor, I wish you the best, and I'm glad that your doctor may have found a combination that will work best for you. Quitting smoking is one of the toughest things to do, and it takes many of us more than one attempt - I lost count how many times I tried. Just hang in there and keep going, and check in once in awhile because I'd love to know how you are doing.

  6. I was scared to death to take the Chantix because of negative things that I heard, but am glad I did. I'm almost at 6 months and would take it all over again if I needed to.

    I feel sorry for anyone that is told that they cannot use it because I think it was a huge factor in my quit being as successful as it has been. I don't think I would have done as well without it.

    Chantix was definitely a miracle drug for me.

  7. Wow, this is crazy talk.
    I honestly don't think I would have been able to quit without chantix. Which i am no doctor or anything but it seems like a pretty good deal to me. I was always sick as a dog after I took it, very rare that I didn't feel really nauseous. BUT that being said, it was DEFINITELY worth it.
    My dad and his wife stopped taking it after a few days b/c 'their tummy's hurt'...they never really gave it a chance. It doesn't do the work for you, but makes it possible for you to do the work yourself.
    I have about 3 wks supply left, since my time w/Chantix is supposed to be done..haven't taken one since Sunday...i don't really feel any different, but I am so glad I have some *just in case*

    And of course, could never have made it without you, Maggie.


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