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Original Research

Trends in Incident Varenicline Prescribing Among Veterans Following the US Food and Drug Administration Drug Safety Warnings

Lauren B. Gerlach, DO, MSa,b,*; Tony Van, MAc; Hyungjin Myra Kim, ScDb,c; Ming-Un Myron Chang, MSc; Kipling M. Bohnert, PhDc,d; and Kara Zivin, PhD, MSa,b,c

Published: December 21, 2021


Objective: To evaluate national trends in incident varenicline and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) prescribing among Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiaries before and after US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warnings regarding neuropsychiatric side effects with varenicline use.

Methods: All adult VA patients identified as smokers from 2007 to 2019 (N = 3,600,947) were determined and monthly counts of new varenicline and NRT users were calculated. An interrupted time-series analysis estimated the effect of the FDA warnings on varenicline and NRT prescribing overall and among Veterans with and without mental health disorders.

Results: The incident use rate of varenicline decreased from a peak of 6.2 per 1,000 veteran smokers in October 2007 to 1.0 by July 2009 following the first FDA warning (pre-warning monthly slope = −0.27; P = .03). New NRT use increased from 10.7 per 1,000 veteran smokers in October 2007 to a peak of 12.6 per 1,000 in July 2009 (slope change = 0.71; P = .01), suggesting potential substitution. Following removal of the FDA boxed warning in December 2016, varenicline prescribing increased but did not return to pre-warning levels by December 2019. Among veterans with and without mental health disorders, varenicline use decreased 90% and 88%, respectively, following the first FDA warning, and both groups had comparable rates of new NRT use.

Conclusions: Following the first FDA warning, incident use of varenicline declined significantly among veterans both with and without mental health disorders. Despite removal of the FDA boxed warning in December 2016, new use of varenicline had not returned to pre-warning levels 3 years following the removal.

Volume: 83

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