Pfizer's popular smoking-cessation drug Chantix came under a hailstorm of controversy last week as dozens of blogs and online forums lit up with complaints about side effects associated with the medication, including disturbing dreams and depression.
The wave of accusations stemmed from an incident in September in which musician Carter Albrecht was shot to death by a neighbor after causing a commotion outside the neighbor's door. The drug was not officially tied to the murder, but Chantix users have taken to the Internet and are blogging about their experiences with the drug.
"After taking it for eight days, I suffered from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. I immediately stopped taking Chantix," wrote one Chantix user at lawprofessors.typepad.com back in July. "That has been since May, and I still suffer from bouts of severe depression."
Last week, FDA announced that it would be examining the situation and further reviewing the cases. It stated that alcohol might have played a part in the Albrecht case but that it would be investigating other reports.
"Chantix is one of those drugs that does well for Pfizer, and it's sort of disappointing that it has these side effects," said Les Fundleyter, healthcare strategist at Miller Tabak. "We don't have a lot of data right now to substantiate anything. However, the story is out there now and, in the best case, even if there isn't much to this story, it's still going to make people think twice about taking and prescribing Chantix."
A Virtual Megaphone One of the biggest problems right now is that the Internet has provided a megaphone for people to voice their concerns and problems with the medication. Even if Chantix isn't deemed unsafe, could the backlash from bloggers and forum posters badly damage the drug?
"Blogging can kill a brand if it is not responded to appropriately, but there are things that can be done," said Lisa Flaiz, VP and national pharma practice lead of interactive ad agency Avenue A | Razorfish. "The beauty and the curse of blogging and Web 2.0 in general is that pharma companies have to let go of their brand. It doesn't mean they can't respond—but when they do respond, they have to be careful that they respond with all the normal rules and regulations of promotion."
Calls to Pfizer were not returned as of press time.