Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Chantix Road Rage - Revisited

Depressed mood, agitation, and "suicide ideation" have been reported among some users of Chantix and the FDA recently issued a public health advisory on the smoking-cessation drug (see "FDA Issues Public Health Advisory on Chantix").

While the FDA rightly focuses on this important possible side effect, it is ignoring the more troubling "road rage" side effect that seems to be much more common and dangerous to innocent bystanders than is suicide, which, after all, solves the victim's nicotine addiction problem once and for all!

Of course, the most famous case of Chantix-induced rage was the story of Carter Albrecht, a prominent Dallas musician who was shot to death by a neighbor who was threatened by Albrecht's attack on his front door.

Very few reports about Chantix-induced road rage, however, have made it to the front pages or network TV news. Can it be happening "under the radar" so to speak?

Imagine, if you will, driving in Texas and becoming the focus of an enraged, armed, Chantix-totting Texan in a Ford F150 pickup. Just because you cut the idiot off trying to change lanes!

But that is likely to be a rare event. First of all, the rage and suicide ideation side effects probably occur in less than 15% of the millions of Chantix users. What's the chance that you or I will run into one of these 300,000 or so possessed souls? It's 1 in a thousand, that's what. Although that's infinitely more likely than being struck by lightening or winning your state's lottery, I don't see the need to stop driving -- except, perhaps, in Texas.

No, no, no. Real Chantix-induced road rage is NOT the problem. But using Chantix as an EXCUSE for real road rage IS a problem.

What's happening is that certain drivers -- UPS delivery people, school bus drivers, cabbies in NYC, interstate truckers, MTA bus drivers, and all those other drivers with "How's my driving? Call XXX to complain" bumper stickers -- are using Chantix as an excuse when they are caught giving little old lady drivers the finger or passing them across the double yellow line in a school zone!

Yes, the little old ladies out for a leisurely drive in our vast homeland countryside are in ever more danger of being victims of road rage perpetrated by Chantix users with a ready-made excuse: "Chantix did it!"

Such was the case when Charlotte Simmons of Clarksdale County, New Mexico encountered Peg Williams, a school van driver for the upper Clarksdale school district, last Wednesday morning.

Charlotte was innocently on her way to the local Acme to do some shopping. As per her normal routine, Charlotte came to a FULL stop at the stop sign at the corner of Blevitt Drive and Scyamore, about 1 mile from her home. Close behind her in the van was Peg. A little TOO close, thought Charlotte, who lingered an extra few seconds before making a right turn onto Sycamore.

Peg didn't stop and also made the turn, coming right up to Charlotte's rear end. Imagine Charlotte's fear if you will. It increased substantially, however, when Peg started honking her horn and kept doing it for about 2 miles or about 5 minutes continuously.

"What does that crazy person want?," asked Charlotte to herself. "I'm going the speed limit", which was 25 miles per hour.

What happened next nearly caused Charlotte to have a heart attack. As they approached a 15-MPH school zone, the van revved its engine, crossed the double yellow line, and passed Charlotte who tried to keep calm and focus on her driving. But she couldn't ignore Peg who leaned over and with a crazed look on her face "flipped the bird" at Charlotte.

Of course, Charlotte immediately called the 1-800 number on the back of Peg's van when she got home and put her groceries away. The operator who answered thanked Charlotte for her report and promised that action will be taken.

Peg, realizing that Charlotte would call her superiors, immediately devised a plan of defense. Thank God she was prescribed Chantix ten days before the incident. Although she stopped taking the drug after 3 days -- it gave her nightmares -- her lawyer (who she contacted immediately) told her that was immaterial. What mattered was that she was prescribed a medication with strange, well-documented side effects that could be used as an excuse for Peg's road rage. An employer cannot fire someone for medical reasons.

At her disciplinary review, Peg successfully played her Chantix card and got away with a slap on the wrist -- she had to take one "anger management" class but could keep driving.

Imagine that story repeated thousands of times. As more and more people get away with road rage using Chantix as an excuse, the world becomes a much more dangerous place for the rest of us -- even those among us who have quit smoking WITHOUT taking a drug!

Lesson for you road rage warriors out there whose jobs depend upon safe driving habits: get a prescription for Chantix now -- even if you do not smoke. You never know when it will come in handy.

Any resemblance between the people and circumstances depicted in this story and real people is purely coincidental. Furthermore, the author does not have any financial ties to Pfizer and will not benefit from increased sales of Chantix (as far as I know).


  1. Kathy6:51 PM

    Road rage should not be tolerated. Its a sad world we live in, not only are we not safe on the road we are not safe in our homes.

  2. Anonymous12:17 PM

    I recently experienced an 'episode' of road rage... I had been taking Chantix for seven days. I cannot honestly say that my rage was not induced by the fact that my nicotine supply had been suddenly cut off and that my 'psychotic episode' (as I am calling it) was not aggravated by a severe case of PMS. Here's my story. I had to leave work to take my daughter to a doctor's appt - she was not feeling well and decided to lay across the back seat (not buckled in - which normally I would not have allowed, but she is 18 years old and sometimes as a parent, we must chose our battles). In this fast-paced world, we must all admit that when we have somewhere to go and a specific time in which we need to be there, we pretty much know within minutes the amount of time it will take us to drive from point A to point B and not be late. So, there I was traveling 60-65 mph in a 55 mph zone when a van with a handicap plate pulls out in front of me and imposes his special speed limit of 10 mph below the speed limit upon me. Normally, this would just irritate me and I would curse under my breath and semi-patiently wait for this inconvenience to end. On this particular day however, I became filled with rage. I 'rode his butt' for about a mile before he decided to slam on his brakes (twice!). After the second time, I decided - in city limits - to go around him using the left hand turn lane. I cut him off quite badly and when we came up to a stop light seconds later, I ripped my seatbelt off and I had one hand on my door handle and the other on the purse that I planned on beating the crap out of him with. Fortunately for me, the poor man decided to turn right rather than wait for the lady with the crazed look in her eyes to unleash her fury upon him. Nice story, huh? I am a 40 year old mother of three, I have a full time job and I am a very responsible person with no felony assaults on record. During my psychotic episode I completely disregarded the safety of my child in the backseat and my spotless driving record, and after weighing the risk of being hauled away to jail against the satisfaction of beating a handicapped individual, chose the latter. Needless to say, I immediately stopped taking the Chantix. I continued to have varying degrees of psychotic episodes over the next 4 days before beginning to feel normal again.
    I too have a kind of 'Oh, give me a break' attitude towards people who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions and look to lay blame on anything but themselves - but I have to admit, that was one scary week and this is one person who will never attempt to quit smoking with the help of a pill again.


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