Vioxx was a NSAID painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug. It was one of the new, Cox-2 inhibitor drugs, developed by Merck, and approved as scientifically safe and effective by the FDA in May 1999. It was also marketed as Ceoxx and Ceeoxx. It quickly gained wide acceptance as a safe way of treating patients with arthritis, menstrual pain, and acute pain generally. When it was first marketed Vioxx was said to be a "wonder drug", safer and more effective than other NSAID's such as Aspirin and Ibuprofen.
The conventional medical establishment told us that, unlike earlier NSAID drugs, Vioxx (and other Cox-2 inhibitors) relieved pain and inflammation without interfering with the protective stomach lining, a well-known DIE in the older drugs.
After its introduction in 1999, Vioxx was withdrawn from the market, worldwide, in September 2004, after it was implicated in several fatalities, involving heart attacks and strokes. It has been estimated to have caused up to 140,000 cases of serious heart disease, and that up to 40% of these could have been fatal. Other serious DIEs included kidney insufficiency or failure, seizures, high blood pressure and peripheral edema. kidney and liver damage, pregnancy complications, birth defects, and high blood pressure.
Yet, for that short period Vioxx quickly became is one of the most prescribed, and most profitable pharmaceutical drug ever to be given to patients. When it was withdrawn from the market it was being prescribed to over 80 million people, and was a massive money earner for Merck, estimated to have been about $2.5 billion. So when it was withdrawn, after its short, but too long lifespan, it became the most profitable drug ever to be banned!
Yet the history of Vioxx is more significant than just another pharmaceutical drug that was found to be far too dangerous to give patients.
It quickly involved Merck in massive litigation in the USA, and showed just how devious and criminal the Big Pharma industry can be when they are pushing dangerous drugs, and keeping the truth from the general public, and in this case, from conventional doctors too.
By 2007, Merck, was facing some 7,000 outstanding lawsuits in the USA, and experts estimated that the drug companies potential liabilities might be over $5bn (BBC News, 12 March 2007). Merck's legal and compensation costs have been estimated at about $6 billion, which probably meant that the company still profited from the sale of Vioxx!
Again, rather late in the day, medical scientists found that Vioxx (and drugs similar ro Vioxx) could cause heart attacks and strokes because they stop an enzyme producing blood-thinning agents, thereby leading to a greater chance of blood clotting. This highlighted the total and absolute failure of pharmaceutical drug testing, the incompetence and inability of medical ‘science’, and drug regulation, to protect patients from highly dangerous drugs.
As so often happens, it was not until many thousands of people had been prescribed the drug, and suffered and died because of it, that its dangers became apparent to the conventional medical estabishmen, and were deemed to dangerous to continue giving it to patients!
Vioxx therefore demonstrates many aspects of the almost routine dangerousness of conventional medical drugs:
• Vioxx was presented to us as a new 'wonder' drug.
• We were told that it had been 'scientifically' tested, and proven to be an effective and safe drug.
• But within a few years on the market it was found to be dangerous, a 'killer' drug.
But the Vioxx scandal also demonstrated much more.
• That medical 'science', that supportedearly claims regarding the efficacy and safety of this drug, was not only wrong, but totally condemned by its total inaccuracy, its direct obfuscation of the facts, its blatent failure to disclose evidence, and what amounted to the criminal falsification of drug test results.
• That the drugs industry was based, not just on 'failed' medical science, but that it is based on a vast conspiracy of industrial, commercial and medical dishonesty too.
During the court hearings it was revealed that Merck had known about the risks associated with Vioxx as early as 2000. Its response was to try to bury the heart disease risks of the drug. The Wall Street Journal revealed that Merck had been trying to bury the serious health risks of Vioxx as far back as March 2000. The company was accused by the New England Journal of Medicine of 'manipulating' a study that claimed, incorrectly, that the cardiovascular risks did not arise until 18 months of use. Further, two medical professionals testified that they were pressured by Merck not to publish test results that showed increased rates of cardiovascular disease. By early 2005 a study calculated that Vioxx had caused between 88,000 and 140,000 cases of heart disease in the US, and thousands of deaths.
Dr Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet, summed all this up when he wrote:
"The licensing of Vioxx and its continued use in the face of unambiguous evidence of harm have been public health catastrophes."
Yet whilst Merck was eventually forced to pay large sums of money in compensation to its victims in the USA, the drugs industry can still demonstrate that it has a powerful influence within the court processes - at least in the UK.
Vioxx victims in the UK, who also suffered heart attacks or strokes, were not compensated owing to the protection accorded to the drug companies. The Guardian report (29th November 2005) said that Lord Brennan, one of Britain's leading QCs, had warned of a "serious risk" that people injured by faulty drugs will no longer be able to mount compensation claims in the British courts. It said that more than 500 people who had suffered strokes or heart attacks following Vioxx treatment had lost an appeal for legal aid. Another QC said that the failure to get funding for the case spelled "the end of litigation against drug companies in the UK". He added that British people may end up with no justice, no recompense, whereas in the USA Merck would probably settle the cases.
Merck has certainly done so. As with all drug companies, they cause mayhem, disease and death, pay victims compensation when they are forced to do so, then carry on plying their drugs to us as though nothing had happened!
The scandal of Vioxx was reported in the mainstream media, but not at any level commensurate with the damage to health, the disease, the deaths caused by the drug. As usual, the public were 'proteccted' from learning about the behaviour of the drug companies by their friends in the press! However, it is well reported on the internet, so for further details of the enormity of the Vioxx scandal, information can be obtained there.
Perhaps this should be the concluding thought about Vioxx. If the conventional medical establishment can prove itself to be so incompetent, devious and corrupt in relation to this drug, what evidence is there that it is any more competent, straightforward and honest about the claims it makes for drugs they are prescribing to patients today?