Merck and the Vioxx Scandal
Dangerous drugs still generate profits
Yet the pattern of exploiting the public for profit is quite clear. An email authored by Dr. Scolnick, Merck's research chief, during the development of Vioxx reveals that even though the drug was known to be dangerous, it was bound to be a great seller just like the company's other drugs which, he admitted, are also dangerous: "We have a great drug and like angioedema with vasotec and seizures with primaxin and myopathy with mevacor there is always a hazard.The class will do well and so will we."
By saying, "The class will do well and so will we," he clearly means that despite the health hazards of the drugs, they're going to sell well anyway, and everyone who owns stock at Merck (or who works at Merck) is going to financial benefit from that.
Even prestigious medical journals (which are funded primarily by drug advertising money, by the way), joined in pumping up the credibility of Vioxx. In November, 2000, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article written by academics who were literally paid by Merck. This article heralded the "benefits" of Vioxx in reducing stomach problems and -- get this -- reducing heart attack rates. The article, of course, left out all the negative information about Vioxx, including what was obvious even in 2000: that Vioxx increased the risk of heart attacks, strokes and blood clots, even in healthy people.
The FDA: asleep at the wheel
For its part, the FDA does nothing to protect consumers. As always, the agency ignored the dangers of prescription drugs and, for many years, continued to allow Merck to keep pushing this dangerous drug right up to the day the evidence was undeniable and the drug was finally pulled.
The behavior of the FDA was so irresponsible (if not downright criminal) that it earned itself scathing criticism from The Lancet, where Dr. Horton explained, "This discovery points to astonishing failures in Merck's internal systems of post-marketing surveillance, as well as to lethal weaknesses in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's regulatory oversight." (Emphasis added.) This phrase, "lethal weaknesses," has never before been used to describe the FDA... at least not by anybody in the medical industry. It means, simply stated, that the FDA's mistakes are killing people.
In effect, the FDA acted as a Big Pharma propaganda machine, catering to the interests of drug companies at every turn. In 2001, when the FDA became increasingly aware of the dangers of the drug, it went to Merck and asked the company to include prominent new warnings on the drug label. Merck balked and complained that the FDA should, instead, highlight the drug's positive gastrointestinal features.
Instead of demanding the inclusion of the warning label (like a fully empowered regulatory body might do), the FDA caved in and actually reached a compromise with Merck that resulted in a new label promoting the claim that Vioxx would caused fewer stomach upsets! Below that claim, in small print, it mentioned that the drug would also cause more heart attacks and strokes.
Meanwhile, people were dying. How many people were harmed or killed in those four years during which Merck and the FDA hid the truth about Vioxx? And how many other drugs are just as dangerous and yet heavily promoted?
According to the American Medical Association, prescription drugs kill -- yes, kill -- 100,000 Americans each year. Another document, Death by Medicine authored in part by Dr. Gary Null, shows as many as 750,000 people being killed each year by medications and surgical procedures combined. Clearly, these deaths dwarf the fatalities caused by terrorists, wars, and all national crime statistics combined.
Drug companies far more dangerous than terrorists
It leads to a startling, but true, conclusion: drug companies are killing far more Americans than all terrorists, murderers and criminals combined, and yet the deaths are allowed to go on thanks to a Bush Administration that's closely allied with Big Pharma and a Food and Drug Administration that might as well be called the "Drug Promotion Agency."
"the FDA continues to see the pharmaceutical industry as its customer -- a vital source of funding for its activities -- and not as a sector of society in need of strong regulation." - Dr. Richard Horton, editor, The Lancet
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