The FDA has issued several warnings regarding some popular prescription flu drugs because of reports that when the medications are taken by some children, their behavior can become erratic or they can even hurt themselves. The agency is also looking into a new anti-smoking drug, Chantix, because of reports that some adults taking the pills are also displaying behavioral side effects, including suicidal thoughts.
The flu drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, are both taken after the onset of the illness; while they can't cure it, if taken early enough, both drugs are shown to shorten the amount of time you're sick and lessen the severity.
The Early Show's Dr. Emily Senay explained that the FDA safety advisory group "took a look at these two medications because of reports of neuropsychiatric side effects related to these. Many of these reports coming from Japan, but still some in this country. And a lot of these reports are happening in kids . . . We're talking about things like delirium, hallucinations, psychosis, which is really a severe detachment from reality, impulsive behavior in some cases. They say that the kids had this urge to sort of flee."
More frighteningly, "In Japan, there were fatalities linked to kids who were either hit by cars or fell out windows, self-injurious behavior . . . So the FDA really wants to increase the language on the label so that doctors, patients, parents are aware that this is a rare, but potential side effect linked to these drugs."
However, the FDA stopped short of stopping doctors from prescribing it for boys and girls. "They're not saying these drugs should be limited in any way or come off the market, not at all," stressed Dr. Senay. "In fact, they go so far as to say we're not sure if these side effects are linked to problems related to the virus, because the virus itself can cause neuropsychiatric problems, to some combination of the virus and the drug, or whether it's the drugs alone. So they just want to be very prudent and make sure that this language gets out there and doctors and parents understand that they need to look for these side effects, particularly in the first 24 to 48 hours of taking these medications."
Similarly, the anti-smoking drug Chantix has also caused some alarm among doctors who have been prescribing it.
"This is a new, anti-smoking drug. A lot of my colleagues who use this say it's quite effective in helping people quit smoking," explained Dr. Senay.
"However, there are reports now, and there was a communication letter from the FDA just last week that showed that there were some suicidal thoughts, aggressive behavior, erratic behavior linked to this. They have some specific recommendations for people who might be taking this drug. First of all, if you get any mood changes or you feel depressed while you're on this, you should talk to your doctor right away. And you want to use caution when operating or driving machinery, because it has been linked to some drowsiness."
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