The Spark

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

The Vioxx fiasco:
Making a killing with a dangerous drug

Oct 11, 2004

The pharmaceutical company Merck abruptly pulled its big-selling painkiller Vioxx off the market at the end of September. Vioxx had accounted for eleven% of Merck's sales, bringing in 2.5 billion dollars a year.

Vioxx had been touted as a miracle drug, more effective than other painkillers like aspirin, Tylenol and ibuprofen, without side-effects like stomach irritation. In fact, it works no better than these over-the-counter pain killers; and it even carries the same risk of stomach upset.

But that's not the worst of it – Vioxx has been shown to raise risks of blood clot, heart attack, stroke – and death – among those who take it.

Vioxx's dangers finally got it pulled off the shelves – but it had been on the market for over 5 years, and was taken by over 1.3 million people in the United States alone.

Vioxx is no different from other brands of prescription pain relievers like Celebrex and Bextra. They all work the same way. So, if Vioxx raises risks of heart disease, it's a good bet the others do, too.

In fact, the group Public Citizen has already come out with a warning that Bextra shows the same serious safety problems that Vioxx does.

The only ones who benefit from these drugs are the drug companies themselves. Unlike other pain relievers, they're patented. The drug companies each own their specific variety, so they control the price. And they've made a killing on these drugs, which are MUCH more expensive than other pain killers.

Merck is just like all the other pharmaceuticals, marketing their versions of Vioxx: it didn't spend money on research to find a product that was safer and more effective. It did it to find a drug that it could control, patent, and market – while charging ridiculously high prices for it. Even though the drug was NOT any more effective than aspirin – and MUCH more dangerous.

For pharmaceutical companies like Merck, their first thought is not the health of the patient, but the health of their profits. And they don't care how much blood their money is covered with.