Sechelt's Alicia Pickering doesn't want anyone else to suffer the way she has for the past five years, so she's leading a class action lawsuit against Pfizer Canada Inc. aimed at stopping the sale of Champix, a smoking cessation drug sold by the company.
She said the drug forever altered her life, causing a permanent "drug induced mood disorder" that resulted in the loss of her job and difficulties coping with life in the face of severe depression and anxiety.
"It's a permanent mental illness I have because of this," Pickering said, unwilling to put a name to her condition for fear of stigma.
She has kept her illness secret for many years, worried people would judge her for it.
"But I'm sort of at a place now where I'm willing to give up my privacy in order to warn others," Pickering said.
She described herself as a "normal healthy mom" prior to taking Champix for three weeks in May of 2008.
"It was noticeable something was very, very wrong on about day four," she said. "We'd just moved into our dream house, it was supposed to be exciting and happy and I was sitting on my couch sobbing not knowing why. I was hysterical. It was like this overwhelming black cloud had sort of enveloped me and I became bedridden, couldn't work, had thoughts of suicide. I was scared to drive because I had visions of just driving myself right off the road. I felt so bad and I had no desire to feel better and I have never, ever felt that way."
It was her mother who suggested Champix might be to blame and Pickering stopped taking the drug after three weeks' use; however, her condition did not improve. By August 2009, Pickering had to be admitted to hospital because the depression "had gotten so bad."
She credits her faith in God and the counseling of Dr. Karl Enright with getting her through those dark times.
In early 2010, curious if others had similar reactions to the smoking cessation drug, Pickering spent some time searching on-line.
"I was horrified to find out there are hundreds and hundreds of people out there who have suffered the way I have and in different ways as well," Pickering said. "It just so happened, and I believe God's hand was in this, but I came across the website for Klein Lyons, who is my lawyer, and they were talking about Champix and if you had any adverse side effects to give them a run down and let them know because they were working on getting together a class action lawsuit."
Soon Pickering was named as a lead plaintiff in the class action suit along with Nicole McIvor of Princeton and Patricia Clow on behalf of her late daughter, Heidi Clow of Victoria. Heidi took her own life after taking Champix for a few months to quit smoking and McIvor attempted suicide by trying to drive her car into an oncoming logging truck.
The class action lawsuit, recently certified in Ontario Superior Court, is open to any person who took Champix between April 2, 2007 (when it started being sold in Canada) and May 31, 2010, which is when the drug's label was changed to include the most serious warning available in Canada.
"People who took the drug prior to that date did not have the benefit of such a warning," said Pickering's lawyer Doug Lennox. "We allege that the drug company had sufficient information prior to 2010, and indeed prior to their even selling it in Canada starting in 2007 to know that such a warning was necessary. The drug was launched first in Europe and the U.S. before it was ever sold in Canada and there were already many reports of adverse effects from the drug from those countries by 2007."
Currently there are approximately 200 Can-adians who have signed on to the lawsuit.
Pfizer Canada stands behind Champix and told Coast Reporter "there is no reliable scientific evidence demonstrating that Champix causes the injuries alleged."
"Pfizer Canada provided appropriate and accurate information to regulators, physicians and patients about the safety and efficacy of Champix, which Health Canada approved, in accordance with Health Canada's labeling requirements," said Christina Antoniou, manager of corporate affairs for Pfizer Canada Inc. "Champix (known as Chantix in the U.S.) is a proven aid to smoking cessation treatment and an important treatment option approved in 101 countries around the world, including Canada, and has been prescribed to over 18 million patients worldwide."
Pickering admits that Champix took away her desire to smoke but added, "it also took away my desire to live."
Former users of Champix must decide if they want to participate in the class action lawsuit before Sept. 20, 2014.
To find out more visit www.kleinlyons.com/class/champix or call Lennox at 1-406-506-1944.