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Gardner writes: "Some 3,000 Americans died in the attack on the World Trade Center. The murders perpetrated by Merck executives were not as dramatic, obviously, but were every bit as intentional. An early clinical trial had alerted them to the fact that Vioxx caused coronary damage. Their response was to exclude from future trials anyone with a history of heart trouble! Once Vioxx was approved, Merck spent more than $100 million a year advertising it."

Merck & Co.'s Vioxx has been used by millions of people around the world for treatment of arthritis and other painful conditions. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Merck & Co.'s Vioxx has been used by millions of people around the world for treatment of arthritis and other painful conditions. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)



Merck Pays a Pittance for Mass Deaths

By Fred Gardner, CounterPunch

30 November 11

 

Q: Who killed more Americans —al Qaeda crashing airplanes into the World Trade Center, or Merck pushing Vioxx?

A: Merck, by a factor of 18.

ne of the most downplayed stories of our time ended with a whimper this week. "Merck has agreed to pay $950 million and has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge over the marketing and sales of the painkiller Vioxx," the New York Times reported Nov. 23 (in the business section, where important medical news is usually found). The pharmaceutical giant copped to a misdemeanor: urging MDs to prescribe Vioxx for Rheumatoid Arthritis prior to 2002, when the Food & Drug Administration approved its use for that disorder.

The FDA had initially approved Vioxx (after a hasty “priority review”) in May, 1999 to treat osteoarthritis, acute pain, and menstrual cramps. By September 30, 2004, when Merck announced its “voluntary recall,” some 25 million Americans had been prescribed the widely hyped drug. Evidence that using Vioxx doubled a patient’s risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke - based on a review of 1.4 million patients' records - was about to be published in Lancet by David Graham, MD, an FDA investigator. The FDA director’s office, devoted valet of Big PhRMA, had contacted the Lancet in a futile effort to stop publication of their own scientist's findings.

Graham's data indicate that 140,000 Americans suffered Vioxx-induced heart attacks and strokes; 55,000 died, and many more were permanently disabled. The Merck executives’ real crime was conspiracy to commit murder.

Some 3,000 Americans died in the attack on the World Trade Center. The murders perpetrated by Merck executives were not as dramatic, obviously, but were every bit as intentional. An early clinical trial had alerted them to the fact that Vioxx caused coronary damage. Their response was to exclude from future trials anyone with a history of heart trouble!

Once Vioxx was approved, Merck spent more than $100 million a year advertising it. (You may still remember the tune to "It's a beautiful morning…") Merck execs continued to ignore and suppress indications that their new blockbuster was causing strokes and heart attacks. Sales hit $2.5 billion in 2003. And when brave Dr. Graham first presented his irrefragable evidence to an FDA advisory committee in February 2004, Merck argued that the "unique benefits" of Vioxx warranted its remaining on the market. The FDA committee voted 17-15 to keep it available with a black box warning. Ten of the 32 committee members had taken money from Merck, Pfizer or Novartis (which were pushing drugs similar to Vioxx) as consultants. If these MDs had declared their conflicts of interest, Vioxx would have been pulled from the market by a vote of 14-8. By buying an extra seven and a half months, Merck made an extra billion or two, and killed 6,000 more Americans.

Worldwide, Vioxx was used by 80 million people. Assuming their dosages were similar to the 1.4 million Kaiser Permanente patients whose records Dr. Graham analyzed, the death toll exceeds 165,000.

The great selling point to doctors - and the original rationale for developing "Cox-2 inhibitors" such as Vioxx and Celebrex - was their supposed safety compared to aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), which can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and peptic ulcers in some people. (There was no evidence that Cox-2 inhibitors were more effective than NSAIDs at reducing pain and inflammation.)

The NSAIDs work by inhibiting production of an enzyme, Cyclooxygenase, that helps make compounds called prostaglandins that facilitate the inflammatory response and protect the stomach lining (among other functions). In the 1980s a researcher named Philip Needleman discovered that the body makes Cyclooxygenase in two forms - Cox-1, found in normal tissue, and Cox-2, which is more prevalent in damaged tissues associated with arthritis. The drug companies hoped that a compound that inhibited only Cox-2 production would reduce inflammation without gastric side effects. With 40 million Americans suffering from some form of Arthritis, an easier-on-the-stomach painkiller would mean blockbuster sales. And so they invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the '90s developing compounds that would inhibit Cox-2 production, and arranging clinical trials to convince the FDA that such drugs were an improvement over the existing alternatives.

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor

If Cannabis and Cannabis-based medicines had been among the alternatives, the market for Vioxx et al would have been much smaller. (And if codeine wasn’t semi-prohibited, the market would have been smaller still.) How many drugs would lose significant market share if Cannabis-based options were available? Enough so that the pharmaceutical industry would quickly follow the housing sector down the drain. Which is why Wall Street cannot allow legalization of the plant for medical use.

It may turn out that a cannabinoid produced by the plant, cannabidiol (CBD), exerts its anti-inflammatory effects by means of Cox-2 inhibition. A recent study shows that Cox-2 plays a role in breaking down one of the cannabinoids produced by the body, 2-AG. The breakdown product is a precursor to neuroinflammatory prostaglandins.

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime

In 2007 Merck paid out $4.85 billion to settle claims by 27,000 Vioxx victims and their survivors. "The reason 'so few' people filed lawsuits,” a physician explains, “is that there is a significant background rate of heart attack. People may not have recognized their event as being related to Vioxx." The survivors of people who smoked cigarettes, were overweight or had other risk factors would have been discouraged by lawyers from filing claims, he added, because they'd have a hard time convincing jurors that their loved ones’ heart attacks were brought on by Vioxx use.

"No person was held liable for Merck's conduct," Duff Wilson of the Times reported Nov. 23. To be fair-and-balanced in an otherwise Merck-friendly story, he quoted Erik Gordon of the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, commenting "It's just a cost of doing business until a pharmaceutical executive does a perp walk."

That sounds tough but it isn’t. Marketing dangerous drugs would still be "just a cost of doing business" to profit-driven corporations if a few individual execs were made to do time at Camp Fed. Why shouldn’t they be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, along with every accessory to the crime that a thorough investigation could identify? (This could provide meaningful work for the currently useless Drug Enforcement Administration.) The Vioxx conspiracy involved researchers who skewed data and sales execs who framed false pitches and government officials who tried to silence whistleblowers and God knows who else… If somebody is killed in a botched robbery at a Seven Eleven, the kid driving the getaway car is charged with homicide. But Merck’s CEO throughout the Vioxx era, Ray Gilmartin, left the company in 2006 with a golden parachute and joined the Harvard Business School faculty. The class he teaches is called “Building and Sustaining Successful Enterprises.”

A more effective way to counter deadly corporate fraud would be for the government to simply stop doing business with entities convicted of major crimes. If MediCare and state Medicaid programs stopped buying Merck or Pfizer drugs for, say, five years, it just might produce the result that we, the people, require.

The day before the Vioxx settlement was reported, the Wall St. Journal ran a story (in the Marketplace section) under the headline "Pfizer Near Settlement on Bribery." The corporate boo-boo in this instance involved pay-offs to doctors who purchase drugs for state-owned institutions overseas. Johnson & Johnson recently settled a similar bribery case. Merck, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and GlaxoSmithKline are all in settlement negotiations with the government.

On the home front, Pfizer has paid $2.3 billion for violating the federal False Claims Act and bribing institutional purchasers in connection with Bextra, Lipitor, Viagra, Zithromax, Norvasc, Lyrica, Relpax, Celebrex, and Depo-provera.

The systemic corruption is getting worse. In the 15 years between 1991 and 2005, according to Public Citizen, drug companies paid the government $5 billion in penalties and settlements in connection with kickbacks and false claims. In the five years between 2006 and 2010 the pay out was $14.8 billion. Four companies accounted for more than half the blood money ($10.3 billion): Glaxo, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and Schering-Plough.

In recent years the drug industry has surpassed the “defense” industry as the top defrauder of the federal government under the False Claims Act.

Where is zero tolerance when we need it?

Fred Gardner edits O’Shaughnessy’s, the journal of cannabis in clinical practice. Gardner is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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+19 # pernsey 2011-11-30 19:25
Wow! It really is just all about money, people seem to be disposable to these companies.

I use something no doctor will ever tell you about because drug companies cant make money off of it, but it really does help. Its called NOPAL (prickly pear) concentrate juice. Its worked wonders for me google it if you suffer from ailments caused by inflamation. Make sure you research it in a few places theres a lot of good information about it.
 
 
+1 # X Dane 2011-12-01 00:36
Pernsey, I looked up Nopal Is it in the product called Instaflex?? I would very much appreciate your reply.
X Dane
 
 
0 # pernsey 2011-12-01 10:17
Quoting X Dane:
Pernsey, I looked up Nopal Is it in the product called Instaflex?? I would very much appreciate your reply.
X Dane


Hi X Dane, I never heard of instaflex, but I do use NOPAL juice concentrate, its from the cactus fruit prickly pear. Its all natural, honestly the concentrate tastes terrible, but man it works. The first day I took it my knee didnt hurt anymore, and I am energized and go where I want to as before I could barely walk in the winters. I buy the actual cactus pear fruit (prickly pear) in my supermarket, I eat the seeds and all, that has a very sweet taste. I hope this helps, I really dont know anything about instaflex.
 
 
+1 # Texas Aggie 2011-12-01 12:01
Nopal isn't just the fruit (tunas). In Mexico the primary use of nopales is the panca, the leaf so to speak, sliced and diced into little pieces and then cooked in tomato sauce with garlic and onions. It's kind of gooey, but people eat it all the time. You buy it with the spines cut off in any major grocery store. It's credited with all kinds of medicinal properties, primarily antidiabetes.
 
 
0 # X Dane 2011-12-02 02:23
Aggie, is it also helpful, when cooked?
I think it is great that we can help and inform each other.
 
 
+1 # X Dane 2011-12-02 02:19
pernsey, thank you so much for answering.

I googled NOPAL, and there are many products, stating that they contain the nopal. I asked you about Instaflex because it is rather expensive, about 70 dollars for a month supply (capsules).

There is a liquid, Nopalea, I am not sure I have that correctly, that is about the same price for a month supply, I don't know if it's a concentrate.

I do have arthritis, but I won't take Pharme remedies, because as you, I do not trust them.

there's a little publication: "Worst Pills Best pills," that warn you of dangerous medications waaay before the FDA takes them off the market,. some upto 3 years. And it's only 10$ a year.

Many need to take medications, so it is helpful.
Turmeric, Ginger and Cinnamon
(capsules) are great natural remedies. Google them. Is there a name for the concentrate?

From what you mention, many of you are well seasoned. I am 78 and full of life. I am always on the go and happy to have many friends. I take NO medications.

And I am always looking for healthy products to help me enjoy life, I appreciate what you told us pernsey. Do you live in a state with cold winters? California on the coast is a dream for a person from the cold North.
 
 
+1 # pernsey 2011-12-02 09:57
Hi again X Dane, I do live in the east with very cold winters. Thats when my knee gets the worst, the product you mentioned Noplea doesnt have a lot of nopal juice in it. I take the 99.9% nopal concentrate. This link will send you to a 85% blend of nopal juice sold by a private vender not a big business and its a lot higher of a percentage of juice and better tasting product then Nopalea.

http://kevinsmith5.vpweb.com/Product-Information.html

Kevin Smith is a great guy, I have talked to him several times on the phone, he buys product and sells it. He switched to the blend juice, but I still have a good supply of the other juice left so I havent tried it yet. You can also try EBay or Amazon. I am so happy to hear that you also are looking for healthier ways to get healthy then using FDA approved meds that kill. God bless you and I hope this all helps you out.
 
 
+1 # X Dane 2011-12-02 16:03
Thank you again Pernsey. I have tried several times to contact Kevin Smith at the link you gave- unfortunately I could not connect. I was careful, had it all correct, for I know, the least mistake will mean no connection. Still no luck. Could you possibly give me his phone nr. ? I would appreciate it, for obviously it is a good product, since it is helping you.
In spite of all the problems in the country, I think it is marvelous, that we can sit on opposite coasts and talk about, what concerns us, and try to help each other too.

As angry as I am about corruption, and all the other problems we face, I am at heart an optimist. I hope the best for all of you here.
 
 
+1 # pernsey 2011-12-03 16:23
X Dane thats his website not an email, I will give you his email address: CactusCuisine@aol.com his website is www.PricklyPearProducts.com You dont have to buy it from him, but here is the info encase your interested. I hope this helps.
 
 
+1 # X Dane 2011-12-03 23:30
Thanks a million Pernsey. I sent Mr. Smith an e-mail and I am loooking forward to try his products. Too bad you are on the other coast. I agree with you comments. I would like to invite you to lunch as a thank you for being so helpful. You sound like a very kind person. Oh well. I will have to just wish you a MILD winter. I will let you know later how it works,
 
 
0 # pernsey 2011-12-04 01:05
Your very welcome X Dane, I sincerely hope this juice helps you, I have many friends and family on nopal juice and they are loving it too.

Lunch would be great, maybe someday. That was very kind of you.

I would love to know how it all works out for you :-)
 
 
+1 # mwd870 2011-12-01 07:05
Will pass this along to my sister, who has serious arthritis.
 
 
0 # pernsey 2011-12-01 12:22
Quoting mwd870:
Will pass this along to my sister, who has serious arthritis.


I hope it works out for her mwd, the meds doctors dole out, have more side effects then they really help, that stuff scares the crap out of me. I always research a natural cure before seeking to get on a bunch of meds. So far Im med free and feeling great! Honestly the nopal has many benefits, just google it. Find a concentrate juice, not a blend they only have about 10% nopal juice, and takes forever to take a effect.
 
 
+2 # maveet 2011-12-01 20:37
I've had excellent results with celery seed extract for inflammation of ME/CFS. Years ago I used celebrex, related to vioxx, and after quitting due to the inflammatory reaction it caused, I then had heart palpitations, luckily, not life-threatening.
FDA, Fools Dupes Aholes in the service of Pharma.
 
 
0 # pernsey 2011-12-02 09:59
Quoting maveet:
I've had excellent results with celery seed extract for inflammation of ME/CFS. Years ago I used celebrex, related to vioxx, and after quitting due to the inflammatory reaction it caused, I then had heart palpitations, luckily, not life-threatening.
FDA, Fools Dupes Aholes in the service of Pharma.


This is also good to know RLF, thank you for the info.
 
 
+1 # RLF 2011-12-02 06:52
Seems to me that now that Corporations are people with all of those rights and responsibilitie s, they could be prosecuted for a crime it it was shown that they knew this would happen. Obama strikes again with his spineless and corp. sponsored Attorney General...Holde r Sucks!
 
 
+6 # maddave 2011-12-01 01:15
And you always thought that America's Big Pharmaceutical was in business to make us feel good and live longer, better, healthier lives!

Think again!
 
 
+4 # mwd870 2011-12-01 05:35
It's no surprise privitization was a factor in the huge growth of Big Pharma. Before profit became the operating principle, much of the research was done at universities, with the actual goal of helping people.

The last paragraphs of this article are an indictment on everyone for tolerating the status quo.

"The systemic corruption is getting worse. In the 15 years between 1991 and 2005, according to Public Citizen, drug companies paid the government $5 billion in penalties and settlements in connection with kickbacks and false claims. In the five years between 2006 and 2010 the pay out was $14.8 billion.

In recent years the drug industry has surpassed the “defense” industry as the top defrauder of the federal government under the False Claims Act."

The defense industry and Big Pharma are the top defrauders of the federal government? Why is fraud tolerated? I thought the goal was to cut spending - what better place to start? Could it be the influence of big money in politics?
 
 
+2 # Texas Aggie 2011-12-01 12:04
Could it be the influence of big money in politics?

You think? Naah. Couldn't be. All those fine upstanding young men and women motivated only by money? Who'd a thunk it?
 
 
+1 # SueD 2011-12-01 06:09
Celebrex was pulled from the shelves at the same time. It's back on though. My doc prescribed it but I'm too afraid to take it.

@ pernsey, I will check out NOPAL (prickly pear). Thanks for the suggestion.
 
 
0 # pernsey 2011-12-01 10:19
Quoting SueD:
Celebrex was pulled from the shelves at the same time. It's back on though. My doc prescribed it but I'm too afraid to take it.

@ pernsey, I will check out NOPAL (prickly pear). Thanks for the suggestion.


SueD, I hope it works out for you, it sure helped me.
 
 
+6 # Ken Hall 2011-12-01 07:34
The conservative, "free market", "smaller gov't" strategy was ever a bad one for the US public. It's never a good idea to let industries police themselves and, for instance, do their own drug testing. Sensible criticism and resistance was called "fuzzy-headed liberalism" at the time. Just pointing out silliness of conservative ideas but then, can they be called ideas when they aren't the result of rational thought?
 
 
+6 # pagrad 2011-12-01 07:46
How is this different from the Nazi experiments on inmates in concentration camps? -Both supported by commercial enterprises. America, today, is a Fascist Society; just analyze the philosophy of each of the Republican Party candidates. A large part of the American people is as responsible as the Nazi Party members were, 78 years ago.
 
 
+7 # Kootenay Coyote 2011-12-01 09:04
& to those who complain that Marijuana production muss necessarily be involved with crime, what of the above? Clearly Big Pharma involves a lot of crime too...a whole lot....
 
 
+6 # fredboy 2011-12-01 09:18
This most reflects how little government at all levels values human life. And honors and protects big business, no matter what they do. And how our legal system is stacked again the individual victim. Dangerous beyond Fascism.
 
 
+1 # propsguy 2011-12-01 21:17
years ago, a friend was at her doctor's for a routine visit. he noticed her eyes catch the VIOXX ad prominently displayed in his office. he said "don't even think about asking for that. it's a bad drug. they make me display the ad but i'll never prescribe it."
shortly thereafter, her mother, a retired ER nurse learned that her best friend was taking it. she did her best to urge her to stop, but the woman kept taking it and ended up being a VIOXX fatality.
when your doctor urges you to vaccinate your children with Gardasil, i hope you remember that Merck also makes that drug and chances are they are lying about it's "safety" the way they falsified data for VIOXX.
these companies should not be fined a small portion of their profits. they should be forced to close, their CEOs should do hard time in prison, along with the doctors who took their money and proselytized their products
 

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