Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Varenicline: A Cure for Smoking -Or a Smokescreen?

I read this article and I tend to agree with the author. Aside from my opinions on nicotine replacement therapy (read this post), I am not a fan of the miracle pills we hear about. Why? Well, smoking is not only about your physical nicotine addiction, it is also about your psychological 'addiction' to smoking. I say 'addiction' because it is more to do with a warped sense of stimuli and response than addiction! If you want to know more, buy my book!

OK, here's the article:

One of the holy grails of the pharmaceutical industry is to design a drug that would cure or, otherwise significantly reduce nicotine cravings i.e. cure smoking. There are 48 million smokers in the U.S. and 45 million of them would, surely, give anything to quit. So, to conquer that market would mean immeasurable wealth to the victor. With this in mind, there is a potential blockbuster drug currently making its way through the regulatory hurdles that shows promise: Varenicline.

There are as many treatments for smoking as there are brands of cigarettes. These include patches, gums, lozenges, hypnosis, acupuncture and even an anti-depressant, Zyban. Zyban wasn't originally developed as a smoking cessation drug but as a treatment for depression. A side effect was observed- people on this drug smoked less. It has been moderately successful.

Most over-the-counter treatments involve the slow weaning of the patient from nicotine, while this new drug, Varenicline, attempts to block the receptors in the brain that trigger the cravings in the first place. A novel solution, it seems, to a perplexing problem.

As a smoker and having tried everything, I am currently most satisfied with my Commit lozenges. Ultimately though, these lozenges merely replace smoking as my preferred method of ingesting nicotine - something my lungs, but not my pocketbook are quite appreciative of. Now, I would have no problem continuing with these lozenges, but they are quite expensive and do nothing to end my addiction. I was hoping that this new drug, Varenicline, would allow me to kick the habit for good.

Well, the study results are in and here they are:

22% -- smoking abstinence rate after 1 year of patients given Varenicline
16% -- smoking abstinence rate after 1 year of patients given Zyban
8% --- smoking abstinence rate after 1 year of patients given a placebo

Hardly earth shattering numbers was my initial response. There barely seems a difference between Zyban and Varenicline – 1 out of 6 quitting for Zyban vs. 1 out of 5 for Varenicline. It’s too early to draw any conclusions, but it does initially appear, that we might have to wait awhile longer for the elusive smoking cure to be as simple as swallowing a pill.

Meanwhile, it’s off to the drugstore I go, for some more Commit.

Hopefully, it’s on sale.