Chantix and Criminal Responsibility

Chantix is an FDA-approved prescription medication that is touted to help individuals quit smoking.  The drug has been reported to have some serious side-effects, including vivid dreams, suicidal thoughts and actions, depression, hostility, and other behavioral changes.  However, it generally has a good reputation for its ability to assist with smoking cessation.  Are the benefits worth the risks?

A recent Carroll County court case may cause you to rethink whether Chantix is a drug worth taking.  On Monday, August 8, 2016, a Circuit Court judge released a defendant from incarceration after serving 21 months pre-trial.  The defendant, who was taking Chantix at the time of the incident, was charged as a result of shooting his wife in the neck in an unprovoked attack.  As his defense team learned details about his history, and they became aware that he was taking Chantix, they began to explore other similar instances of criminal behavior where Chantix was involved.  While the reported side effects include suicidal actions and behavioral changes, Pfizer, Inc., the manufacturer, does not include homicidal thoughts on the list of side effects, and maintains that Chantix is not scientifically linked to homicidal thoughts.

However, the Carroll County court seemed to disagree.  The defendant entered an Alford Plea (meaning that he maintained his innocence, but conceded that the prosecution had enough evidence to secure a conviction), and was determined to be “not criminally responsible” by the court.  A finding of “not criminally responsible” (“NCR”) means that, at the time of the incident, the defendant, because of a mental disorder or mental retardation, lacked the capacity to understand the criminal nature of his conduct, and was unable to conform his behavior to the requirements of law.

The defendant in the Carroll County case was released, and is currently on probation.  He will have to submit to substance abuse and mental health evaluations, and follow up if treatment is recommended.  He is not allowed to have contact with his wife, and she has filed a petition for divorce.

The prosecution agreed that the defendant was NCR, but did not necessarily agree that the defendant suffered from a Chantix-induced psychosis.

If you currently smoke, and are considering taking Chantix, I would suggest that you discuss the side effects with your doctor, and that you work with your medical professionals and family to determine whether it is the right choice for you.