It's no secret that direct-to-consumer drug advertising made drugs like Viagra, Lipitor, Prozac or Nexium into rock stars. What is less apparent is how many new drugs betrayed serious risks after millions took them.
Here are some blockbusters in the drug graveyard that Big
Pharma hopes we forget about.
1. Darvon and Darvocet
Is an opioid-linked medication that relieves pain worth the overdoses, death, addiction and abuse that are often in its wake? It is a question we hear today with drugs like OxyContin--but dates all the way back to 1957 when Eli Lilly began marketing Darvon.
Darvon and Darvocet (Darvon with acetaminophen, approved in 1972) were synthetic weak opioids that found themselves under safety clouds almost from the beginning. In 1978, Public Citizen called for their ban or severe restriction due to heart toxicity and deaths. Instead of banning or restricting Darvon, the government allowed Lilly to run an "educational program" about the risks. How did it work out? Lilly "converted its education program into a marketing initiative," said the Department of Health Education and Welfare. No kidding! In 2004, Darvon was still the 12th highest-selling generic in the U.S. with 23 million prescriptions filled.
In 2006, Public Citizen again called for a ban saying that Darvon had been linked to 10,000 confirmed U.S. deaths since its introduction and that coroners "note its presence in more deaths each year than most other prescription drugs." Why is Darvon so lethal? A dose and overdose are very close in strength, it is extremely toxic when mixed with alcohol, it eliminates slowly from the body and it appears to be impervious to naloxone, the drug carried by beat cops and paramedics to treat/reverse heroin overdoses.
Finally, in 2010 the FDA heeded the decades of warnings and banned Darvon and all products containing Darvon. The ban came five years after the United Kingdom began withdrawal of the drug. Was Darvon less dangerous in the U.K. cynics asked?