Did Congress write a prescription for Chantix?


Last week, some members of Congress called for an immediate suspension of a drug testing program administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs after ABC News and the Washington Times reported that one of the side effects a specific drug that helps kick the smoking habit could possibly be suicide.

The drug Chantix, manufactured by Pfizer, has been used in programs by the Department of Veterans Affairs as a smoking cessation drug. The ABC report revealed that, “mentally distressed veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are being recruited for government tests on pharmaceutical drugs linked to suicide and other violent side effects.”

But did Congress authorize the tests?

The recently passed Defense Authorization Bill for fiscal year 2009 included a number of preventive health care programs. According to information posted on the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Web site, one of those is “a smoking cessation program, including classes and nicotine replacement including classes and nicotine replacement.”

Language in the 2009 Defense Authorization Act requires the Secretary of Defense to create a smoking cessation program under which all veterans would be eligible to receive rebates to help them quit smoking. Section 713 of the bill reads, The program would include the availability of a pharmaceutical used for smoking cessation by prescription at no cost.”

Since 2007, Pfizer has been lobbying the House, the Senate and the Department of Veterans Affairs on issues related to Defense authorization and appropriations, according to lobbying forms filed with the Senate Office of Public Records.

Although a staffer for the Armed Services Committee that oversees the program said that the Department of Defense would use only drugs that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, to date the FDA appears to have approved only one other drug–Zyban, which has a longer list of side effects than Chantix.

For its part, Pfizer defends Chantix.