EXCLUSIVE by Wendy Williams
AN anti-smoking drug linked to an increased risk of suicide is being openly sold over the counter in Andalucia.
The Olive Press can reveal that the drug Champix is widely available at chemists despite the manufacturer insisting it is ‘prescription-only’.
One British expat Karen Cox, 46, has demanded action after discovering the drug her pharmacist recommended is known to cause serious psychiatric problems.
“I found out that three people had died in Denmark since taking the drug this year,” explained Cox, who lives in Calahonda.
“But it turns out there have been suicide problems around the world from this drug for a number of years and some people have even committed murder.
“It is absolutely terrifying and I feel very strongly that people should be made aware.”
In fact, the Olive Press has discovered that Champix, made by Pfizer, caused 227 suicide attempts worldwide between May 2006 and December 2007.
Included in this number were 41 mentions of homicidal thoughts and 60 cases of paranoia.
Champix comes in tablet form and works by binding to nicotine receptors fooling the brain into thinking it’s had nicotine.
But a year after the ‘wonder drug’ was put on the market an investigation was launched into its safety after it was linked to 37 cases of suicide in America, forcing the manufacturer to put a warning on the label.
A lawsuit filed last year by the family of an American couple who died in a murder-suicide claimed the manufacturer knew as early as 2005 – two years before it issued a warning – that the drug carried a risk of psychiatric disorders but failed to disclose it in a 2007 study.
“These tablets are lethal and are sending people insane,” insisted Cox.
“In all other countries it is prescription only but in Spain you can just walk in to the chemist and pick it up.”
This however should NOT be the case, as Pfizer confirmed to the Olive Press.
Despite the European Commission approving the drug in 2006, the rules state that the drug should only be sold by prescription.
“It certainly shouldn’t be available over the counter despite its success,” said Carol Adams, a therapist from Stop Smoking in Spain.
The specialist explained that she was extremely wary of the drug and was actually refused it by her doctor.
“He said I might not be able to cope with it during a life-changing event, which was moving to Spain,” she explained.
“It is important to know that people can react really badly to any chemical changes to the brain, particularly at times of stress. It is why doctors should be involved.”
Yet, this week the Olive Press, posing as a smoker wanting to kick the habit, found no less than four chemists on the Costa del Sol openly selling it over the counter.
Meanwhile the boss at La Cala Pharmacy, where Cox bought her prescription for 59 euros, admitted he had no idea why he was able to sell it over the counter in Spain when you need a prescription everywhere else in Europe.
“We don’t decide. There are just rules we must comply with,” he said.
He was unable to explain the apparent discrepancy, as was Spain’s drug monitoring agency AEMPS.
When contacted a spokesman insisted someone would get back to us. A European agency the EMA, told us meanwhile to put it in writing and an answer ‘could take up to 31 days’.
At Pfizer a spokesman shockingly informed us the drug WAS only supposed to be available with a prescription in Spain.
“Champix is a prescription medicine in Spain, not an over-the-counter one,” she stated.
She also dismissed the claims that the drug caused suicidal tendencies and insisted that America’s Food and Drug Administration agency (FDA) believes that ‘the drug’s benefits outweigh the risks’.
However she admitted that a deeper study to evaluate the safety of the medicine in patients with depression is currently underway and results are expected in late 2012.