The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Pain reducer or profit maker:
"Smart" aspirins

Aug 26, 2002

Three years ago, drug manufacturer Pharmacia introduced Celebrex and Vioxx. They were supposed to be pain relievers with all the advantages of aspirin but none of its drawbacks. Aspirin is an effective, non-addictive pain relieving drug which brings down fever, reduces inflammation and helps prevent heart. But it can have one serious side effect: It can cause stomach upset or even bleeding and ulcers in some people who take it for a long period of time. And people suffering from permanent painful conditions or diseases like arthritis have to take pain relievers every day.

Pharmacia not only introduced these drugs with an enormous ad campaign to convince doctors how good they were. Pharmacia also published a study showing how well Celebrex worked.

However, it turned out that the Celebrex study from 2000 was published as if it had only lasted six months when it had actually lasted for two years. Why?

Pharmacia, which paid for the study, got good results in people who took the drug for six months. But after a year, it turned out, there was nothing better about Celebrex than there was in aspirin. It had no advantage for people who took it for the longer period. In fact, there was one big disadvantage: While aspirin is protective against strokes and heart attacks, these drugs aren't.

There was, however, one great big advantage for Pharmacia – while aspirin can be purchased for only a few dollars a month, Vioxx and Celebrex were selling for $100 for a month's supply.

In a system based on profit, it's not what a medication can do for a patient's health that counts. It's what it can do for a company's profits.