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Varenicline: A Selective α4β2 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Partial Agonist Approved for Smoking Cessation

Lam, Sum PharmD, CGP, BCPS*†; Patel, Priti N. PharmD, BCPS*

doi: 10.1097/01.crd.0000260270.12829.45
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Tobacco smoking remains a significant health problem in the United States. It has been associated with staggering morbidity and mortality, specifically due to malignancies and cardiovascular disease. Smoking cessation can be difficult and frequently requires pharmacologic interventions in addition to nonpharmacologic measures. Previously available agents are nicotine replacement products and bupropion, which increased quit rates by about 2-fold compared with placebo. Varenicline is the first drug in a new class known as the selective α4β2 nicotinic receptor partial agonists. In several randomized, double-blind, 52-week clinical trials involving healthy chronic smokers, varenicline demonstrated superiority to placebo and bupropion in terms of efficacy measures. Additionally, it improved tobacco withdrawal symptoms and reinforcing effects of smoking in relapsed patients. Patients should start therapy in combination with tobacco cessation counseling 1 week before quit date and continue the regimen for 12 weeks. The dose of varenicline should be titrated to minimize nausea. The recommended dosage is 0.5 mg once daily (QD) on days 1–3; titrate to 0.5 mg twice daily (BID) on days 4–7; and 1 mg BID starting on day 8. An additional 12-week maintenance therapy may be considered for those who achieve abstinence. The most common side effects are nausea (30%), insomnia (18%), headache (15%), abnormal dreams (13%), constipation (8%), and abdominal pain (7%). Overall, varenicline is a breakthrough in the management of tobacco addiction and has demonstrated good efficacy in motivated quitters. It also provides an option for smokers who cannot tolerate other pharmacologic interventions.

From the *Department of Clinical Pharmacy Practice, College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions, St. John's University, Jamaica, New York; and the †Departments of Geriatric Medicine and Pharmacy, Winthrop University Hospital, Mineola, New York.

Correspondence: Sum Lam, PharmD, CGP, BCPS, Department of Clinical Pharmacy Practice, College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions, St. John's University, St. Albert's Hall Room 114, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Jamaica, NY 11439. E-mail:

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.