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Disposable Heroes - Using Vets as Guinea Pigs

Medical Research Veterans Chantrix Pharmaceuticals 2008

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#1 Rhea


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Posted 17 June 2008 - 11:49 AM




In one of the human experiments, involving the anti-smoking drug Chantix, Veterans Administration doctors waited more than three months before warning veterans about the possible serious side effects, including suicide and neuropsychiatric behavior.

"Lab rat, guinea pig, disposable hero," said former US Army sniper James Elliott in describing how he felt he was betrayed by the Veterans Administration.

Elliott, 38, of suburban Washington, D.C., was recruited, at $30 a month, for the Chantix anti-smoking study three years after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He served a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq from 2003-2004.

Months after he began taking the drug, Elliott suffered a mental breakdown, experiencing a relapse of Iraq combat nightmares he blames on Chantix.

"They never told me that I was going to be suicidal, that I would cease sleeping. They never told me anything except this will help me quit smoking," Elliott told ABC News and "The Washington Times".


Police used a Taser gun to stun Elliott and placed him under arrest.

It wasn't until three weeks later that the Veterans Administration advised the veterans in the Chantix study that the drug may cause serious side effects, including "anxiety, nervousness, tension, depression, thoughts of suicide, and attempted and completed suicide."

The VA's letter to the veterans, on February 29, 2008, followed three warnings from the FDA and Chantix' maker Pfizer, that were issued on November 20, 2007, January 18, 2008 and February 1, 2008. (click here to read the FDA warning and click here to read Pfizer's statement on Chantix)

"How this study continued in the face of these difficulties is almost impossible to understand," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Doctors at the Veterans Administration say they acted as quickly as they could.

"This didn't justify an emergency warning at that level," said Dr. Miles McFall, co-administrator of the VA study.

Dr. McFall said there is no proof that Elliott's breakdown was caused by Chantix and he sees no reason to discontinue the study. Some 140 veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder continue to receive Chantix as part of a smoking cessation study.

Dr. McFall says the VA decided to continue the Chantix study because "it would be depriving our veterans of an effective method of treatment to help them stop smoking."

Caplan, one of the country's leading medical ethicists, said he was stunned by the VA's decision to continue the Chantix experiment.

"Why take the group most a risk and keep them going? That doesn't make any sense, once you know the risk is there," he said.

Chantix is one of the drugs being used in an estimated 25 clinical studies using veterans by the VA.

Pfizer maintains that "the benefits of Chantix outweigh the risks" and that it continues to do further studies on the drug.

The FAA has prohibited commercial airline pilots from using Chantix because of its possible side effects.

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#2 Annibal

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Posted 17 June 2008 - 12:03 PM

:( So they risk their lives and their sanity for their country, bravely fight in a war and return home to people who spit on them and with some who protest at their friends' funerals, only to be tested on with drugs that can buttress the PTSD, stress and anxiety etc that's already there? Poor people.

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#3 Kosh


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Posted 17 June 2008 - 03:43 PM

It's typical of how the government treats Vets. It's been going on since WWI at least.
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#4 Nonny


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Posted 17 June 2008 - 10:16 PM

You can't begin to believe just how freakin' angry I am.  I was given a drug that caused anxiety too, about six years ago, and I only found out it had caused the terrifying escalation in suicidal ideation when I happened to find myself discussing the matter with five or six male veterans who were also experiencing the same side effects.  Every last one of us was diagnosed with PTSD.  

What made it even more horrible was that I realized not only that I could use the drug to end my life, but exactly how I could do it, and thinking about that still freaks me out.  Every time my primary care physician wants to prescribe something, anything, I make him look up all the possible side effects now.  Of course, anxiety wasn't listed for the one that scared me so much back then, but it was added soon after.  

Smoke cessation is big business at a VA hospital.  "Smoke em if you got em" would be a big cause of that.  My flight in basic was quite radical.  We asked, and were granted, segregation for smokers and nonsmokers in formation.  Our TI, a nonsmoker herself, kept us in formation and had the smokers fall out.  The fact that we even dared ask was amazing.  Risking the hell that is an angry TI was worth not having smoke in our faces.  

I wish I could say that I'm stunned that that b@$tard wants to continue the study, but sadly, I'm hardly even surprised.  Angry, you bet.   :angry:
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#5 Broph

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 06:34 AM

OK, but doesn't somebody have to be first? It's not like they can give rats PTSD, then give them the drug, then ask the rats if they're feeling suicidal. The only way to find out about the side effects is for people to take the drug in the first place, right?

#6 silverwind


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Posted 18 June 2008 - 11:01 AM

My problem with that logic is that they already knew that the drug could cause these symptoms, at least 4 months prior to the Army sniper's breakdown.  The words "First, do no harm" may not appear in the Hippocratic Oath, but it's there in spirit.  Any doctor who would willingly cause this sort of harm (mental or physical) to his/her patients obviously cares more about knowledge than people, and shouldn't be practicing medicine, IMO.

Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Medical Research, Veterans, Chantrix, Pharmaceuticals, 2008

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