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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/25/15

Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die

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"Once Vioxx was approved, Merck spent more than $100 million a year advertising it ... 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." (Merck Pays a Pittance for Mass Deaths, Fred Gardner, CounterPunch)

Is that what's going on? Is some prestigious organization like Lancet about to release a damning report on these dubious pain relievers, so the FDA is trying to get ahead of the story to save their own kiester? How much has the culture at the FDA really changed since the Vioxx scandal? Is the agency still owned and operated by the industries its supposed to regulate?

Do you really need to ask? The better question would be: What regulatory agency in the U.S. ISN'T owned corporate America? They own it all; lock, stock and barrel.

And, keep in mind, (according to Gardner) Vioxx killed over 165,000 people.

Now guess how many Merck executives went to jail?

Yep. Zero.

I'm not saying these medications don't help to relieve chronic pain from "debilitating conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis," gout and other rheumatological and painful conditions." They do. But whether they're useful or not doesn't change the fact that "even small amounts" of this crap can put you at risk of a heart attack or stroke. That's what the public needs to know, and that's the FDA's job. Here's an excerpt from an article in the NYT that tries to minimize the dangers:

"The broader context is important. The relative risk of heart attack and stroke from the drugs is still far smaller than the risk from smoking, having uncontrolled high blood pressure or being obese."

True, and it's probably less risky that bungee-jumping off the Empire State Building, but what difference does that make? The fact is, it can kill you, the FDA KNOWS it can kill you, and yet they haven't done anything to counter the relentless tsunami of industry generated propaganda that has convinced the American people that these medications are risk free. Here's more on that from the Times:

"The agency said it would ask drug manufacturers to change the labels to reflect new evidence that the drugs increased the risk of heart attack and stroke soon after patients first started taking them, and that while the risk was higher for people with heart disease, it surfaced even for people who had never had heart problems."

Let me get this straight: The FDA knows that these anti inflammatories are killing people and they're going to "ask" the drug companies if they'll change the labels? Is this how regulation works in the US nowadays; the agencies basically have to grovel before these cut-throat industries just to get them to do the right thing?

I have a better idea: Why not just prosecute a few of these drug-pushing executives for manslaughter? That ought to do the trick, don't you think?

Here's one last blurb from the Times:

"'There is great concern that people think these drugs are benign, and they are probably not,' (said Dr. Peter Wilson, a professor of medicine and public health at Emory University in Atlanta) 'The thought is these are good for short-term relief, probably for your younger person with no history of cardiovascular trouble.'"

There it is from the horses mouth. Do not presume that these medications are safe just because they're hyped in the media. Do your own research and decide for yourself whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

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Mike is a freelance writer living in Washington state.

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