What made this young woman kill herself?
All she wanted was to be healthy and get the most out of what life had to offer.
Instead, Heidi Clow ended up taking her own life.
How did this bright, smiling 22-year-old Canadian woman turn into the scowling, irritable person who mixed aspirin and sinus medication into a deadly protein shake one autumn evening in 2009?
According to the pharmacist who filed an adverse reaction report about her suicide, there’s a one-word suspect: “Champix.” If the name isn’t familiar, you might recognize the one it bears here in the United States: Chantix. It’s a smoking-cessation drug that the FDA slapped with suicide-risk warnings in 2009.
Back then, the always-brilliant FDA said people shouldn’t stop taking the drug. They said that patients should just “be careful.”
Ridiculous, yes. Irresponsible, absolutely.
But it turns out that Canada is doing their best to out-do the dangerous nonchalance shown by our regulators. A recent investigation by the Toronto Star reveals that the government agency Health Canada has refused to say whether or not they’ve even bothered to investigate Heidi’s death or numerous other suicides that have been linked to use of the drug.
Health Canada is supposed to be a drug watchdog, but according to The Toronto Star, it would appear they stopped bothering with individual cases of psychiatric side effects after checking out 14 cases in 2007. Since then, the drug has been linked to 24 more suicides and almost 450 serious cases of aggression (including sudden senseless violent attacks), depression, and suicidal thoughts.
And while countries like France no longer cover the drug because of the risks, Canada continues to reimburse for it, to the tune of $7 million in the past year.
Several doctors have urged investigation, saying people need to know the risks associated with these drugs. But Pfizer Canada and Health Canada, much like our own FDA, maintain that the benefits somehow outweigh these deadly risks and that there’s no proof that the drug is causing the behavior.
They say that the safety label is enough. But is it? Heidi Clow’s friends and family would likely say absolutely not.
Once the Toronto Star called Health Canada out on their inaction, the agency suddenly changed their tune, claiming they have “conducted several systematic reviews of Champix.” Of course, they wouldn’t give any details and didn’t provide any proof of the reviews.
So what happened to the people who stopped taking Champix after experiencing these suicidal thoughts, depression, and aggression? Nobody knows. Health Canada is keeping that information a secret. So there’s no indication of whether the symptoms stopped–or if they persisted and led to tragedy.
Quitting smoking is a long, hard road. But there are ways to take it on that don’t mean giving yourself up to deadly side effects. Last month, I wrote about the surprising “trick” that can help you kick smoking for good. Of course, having a support network is essential. Shady pharmaceuticals aren’t.
“Health Canada tight-lipped on Champix suicides,” Toronto Star (thestar.com)