The anti-smoking drug varenicline (Chantix) is considered a safe and effective treatment in helping people with schizophrenia quit smoking, according to new research by physicians at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
This is promising since patients with mental health disorders, especially schizophrenia, have higher rates of cigarette smoking and more difficulty quitting.
“Individuals with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder have a greater severity of nicotine dependence and therefore require a more potent treatment plan than the general population,” said Jill M. Williams, associate professor of psychiatry at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and lead investigator of the study.
“It is important, however, that treatments for smoking cessation do not cause unnecessary psychosocial concerns or negative reactions with other medications used in the treatment of schizophrenia.”
For the study, researchers compared smokers—all with diagnosed but clinically stable schizophrenia/ schizoaffective disorder—who were randomly assigned into either a placebo or a varenicline-treated group. The study consisted of a two-week screening period, a 12-week treatment period and a 12-week post-treatment followup. All participants wanted to quit smoking.
At the end of the 12-week treatment period, 19 percent of the varenicline group had a significantly higher abstinence rate from smoking, compared to 4.7 percent in the placebo-controlled group.
At the end of the 24-week trial, participants in the varenicline group continued to have lower levels of cigarette use, although at a slower rate. Most importantly, the varenicline group did not experience any significant changes in schizophrenia symptoms during the study period.
“Our study shows that varenicline may be an effective and safe smoking cessation treatment for patients with clinically-stable schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder,” said Dr. Williams.
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.