Q: My brother took Chantix for two months before he died from suicide. He had no previous mental health history, and was a mellow, wonderful, happy-go-lucky person. He was a very successful software engineer and loving husband and father with everything to live for. He loved life.
His vice was chewing tobacco, and he turned to Chantix to help quit. He had blackouts, hallucinations and fits of rage that he did not remember afterward. He became intensely depressed and angry.
My sister-in-law took him to the emergency room; they sent him home after determining that he was “low risk.” They were very wrong: He killed himself four days later. The fact that he was on Chantix should have been a red flag, but no one seemed to take it seriously.
A: We are so sorry to learn about your tragic loss. For the past seven years there has been a prominent black-box warning on the stop-smoking drug Chantix (varenicline). It states: “Serious neuropsychiatric events including, but not limited to, depression, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and completed suicide have been reported in patients taking CHANTIX.”
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The company that makes Chantix has long objected to this conspicuous warning. In the past several weeks, the Food and Drug Administration has agreed to remove the black box. The agency notes that mental health side effects are still a risk. Health professionals should have taken note that your brother was on Chantix.
Q: I have severe acid-reflux problems. For treatment, I use Pepcid Complete twice a day. I also use Gaviscon and DGL intermittently.
I live in constant worry about whether any of these is a PPI. I know DGL is natural, but would you please settle this once and for all: Is Pepcid Complete or Gaviscon considered a PPI?
A: Neither Pepcid Complete nor Gaviscon is a PPI (proton-pump inhibitor). PPI drugs such as esomeprazole (Nexium), lanzoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec) are very effective at healing ulcers and treating gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Over the past decade, however, scientists have discovered some disturbing side effects from PPIs. The list now includes strokes, heart attacks, kidney damage, dementia, weakened bones and infections.
Gaviscon contains the antacids aluminum hydroxide and magnesium carbonate. Pepcid Complete has three different compounds to help control heartburn: famotidine, calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide.
For other strategies to ease indigestion and control heartburn, we are sending you our Guide to Digestive Disorders. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (68 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. G-3, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from the website: www.peoplespharmacy.com. DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) is a natural compound derived from licorice that can be helpful against heartburn.
Q: In the past, I had trouble with dry skin. Now after I shower I use coconut oil all over my body, including my damp hair. This has improved my skin far better than any expensive creams and lotions. I no longer have cracked fingertips or frizzy hair. Even my complexion has improved.
A: Virgin coconut oil is often used as a moisturizer. Studies have shown it is more effective than mineral oil for easing dry skin (Contact Dermatitis, March 2004) and eczema (International Journal of Dermatology, January 2014). Coconut oil also discourages the overgrowth of common skin pathogens that can cause problems such as cracking fingertips (Dermatitis, November-December 2008).
In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or email them via their Web site: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”