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Anti-Smoking Drug Linked to Rare Deaths

Using Zyban may increase risk to those being treated for epilepsy and/or malaria

The anti-smoking drug Zyban (bupropion) may be a factor in a number of rare deaths. The drug is also sold as Wellbutrin when used as a treatment for depression.

Although bupropion has a very good safety record overall, people with a history of seizures or epilepsy are being advised to avoid using it. The recent death of a British flight attendant in Africa was attributed to a epileptic seizure apparently brought on by taking Zyban along with chloroquine, an anti-malaria drug.

Makers of the drug, GlaxoSmithKline, say that Zyban is "incompatible" with chloroquine, The Times of London reports. Doctors seldom prescribe chloroquine to prevent malaria, however, because the parasite is resistant to the drug in most parts of the world.

Bupropion is also suspected of triggering psychotic episodes in people with schizophrenia. The drug has been used to help them quit smoking, since schizophrenics are twice as likely to smoke as the general population. The drug might also trigger psychosis in anyone who has had previous episodes.

Graham Meadows, a psychiatrist at the University of Melbourne told the Australian paper The Age, "There's certainly reasons for being very cautious and to be watching patients extremely carefully."

Bupropion can also have unexpected positive side effects, a previous HealthScout story reports. When used to treat depression, the drug usually preserves and sometimes enhances libido, unlike the more popular antidepressants like Prozac (fluoxetine), which belong to a different category of drugs that frequently depress or even eliminate the sex drive.

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