March 6, 2001 - Zyban: Is the Cure Worse Than the Craving it Treats?
Zyban, the first nicotine-free tablet treatment for smokers who want to stop, is under investigation after it was linked to 18 deaths in Britain, where it was approved for sale only nine months ago. Since June of 2000, about 3457 cases of adverse reactions to Zyban have been reported to the Medicine Control Agency. 73 patients who took the drug reported fits and seizures.
Last night Dr Peter Fletcher, a former assessor to the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, called for an urgent investigation of the drug and its side effects. He said that it was "not a trivial matter" and demanded a major investigation as a matter of urgency. "Anything that is associated with 18 deaths is bad news - it is a high number even for an anti-cancer drug. We are getting close to the point where the cure is worse than the disease," he added.
However, GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Zyban, stated that these adverse side-effects are not necessarily caused by the drug and that many symptoms could relate to other illnesses, medicines or even withdrawal from the nicotine, a highly addictive drug in itself, and that Zyban plays a major role in reducing mortality rates associated with smoking.
Smoking is a single greatest cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK, where smoking-related diseases claim 120,000 lives a year, and represent a fifth of all deaths in the UK. Doctor Chris Steele, who runs the UK's biggest anti- smoking clinic, defends Zyban, claiming the adverse reactions are no worse than those of nicotine withdrawal. He said: "I am not denying that the drug has side effects but it is difficult to prove unequivocally. There have been reports of fits but many people going cold turkey after an addiction would also be inclined to blackout or fit anyway."
Dr Alex Boback also supports the use of Zyban and readily prescribes it to his patients. He said that: "As long as it is prescribed responsibly, the risks are far, far lower than the benefits it definitely gives. It's certainly not a dangerous drug where extra precautions are needed. There are antibiotics which have far higher allergy risks than Zyban."
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