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Volume 70, Issue 64, Friday, November 19, 2004

Opinion

Vioxx debacle shakes faith in medicine

Lucas Mireles
Opinion Columnist

People who have had a moderate to severe muscular strain or surgery to repair muscles in the last few years were likely prescribed a pain relieving medicine called Vioxx.

Vioxx was launched in the United States in 1999 as an "arthritis and acute pain" medication and has been prescribed to more than 24 million patients worldwide. It also brought in 2.5 billion dollars in sales in 2003 -- not too shabby for a little tan pill.

On Sept. 30, the pharmaceutical company Merck, which is responsible for bringing the bright and shiny-eyed public this benevolent wonder drug, issued a worldwide withdrawal of Vioxx.

Why would a behemoth of a pharmaceutical company like Merck want to withdraw its most bankable medication?

Because it may be deadly.

New data from a three-year clinical trial has determined that patients who took Vioxx have "an increased relative risk for confirmed cardiovascular events ... "Increased"? Reports suggest a 300 percent "increase" of risk for heart attack and stroke.

Having had surgery in the past year, I was prescribed Vioxx as a pain reliever. I was on this medication for a few months during my rehabilitation process and at no time was I enlightened of the slightly important risks now prominently trumpeted by the medical community. I can still remember the doctors and nurses assuring me of how I would be "just fine" once I got home, rested and took this medicine. Now that I know I wasn't exactly taking Flintstones vitamins, I feel more like someone was putting Pine-Sol in my porridge.

Should testing for human health stability should be put on hold after the Federal Drug Administration approves a medicine for humans? There was a two-year stint between the launch of Vioxx and its infamous three-year "tell-all" where cardiovascular questions were raised about the drug. Apparently, Merck invested $100 million in consumer marketing assuring the Vioxx-taking public of its safety.

Ironically, the age demographic at which Vioxx was specifically aimed has a high rate of cardiovascular disease. So, if life was a big game of Russian roulette, these people were playing with three bullets in the revolver, pulling the trigger every time this drug was taken.

It may seem that, as a society, we have advanced medical science in ways only the brightest of minds in history could have fathomed. But in many instances we are not so advanced. People used to think humans could heal themselves by cutting veins and "bleeding" to get the "bad blood" out. This is widely considered an outdated and naïve cure, and with a little time, so will Vioxx.

How many other popular medications, produced by very powerful companies, are being happily prescribed by uninformed doctors to more-than-eager patients all around the world right now? A massive change in this scheme should not be wanted, it must be demanded. How do you restore the full faith of millions of disillusioned patients in medicinal science?

Wait a little while and there might be a prescription for that.

Mireles, a columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at anitaleek@yahoo.com

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