Pharmaceutical giant Merck is now under scrutiny by the Justice Department, which has begun a criminal investigation into the firmís marketing of the painkiller Vioxx (withdrawn from the market on September 30, 2004). Since that time, the Vioxx scandal has expanded thanks in part to the publication of internal Merck e-mails by the Wall Street Journal. These e-mails showed that Merck was apparently aware of the dangers of Vioxx several years ago and yet attempted to construct clinical studies to obscure those dangers in an effort to continue marketing these drugs to the general public.
It's becoming clear now that some people at Merck were aware of the dangers of this drug, and yet they continued to push the drug anyway. Vioxx was marketed as a safe drug and was ultimately taken by as many as 20 million Americans before finally being recalled.
I have called for a criminal investigation of Merck and key FDA decision makers because these actions are, in my opinion, worse than white-collar crimes like those committed by Enron executives. These crimes by pharmaceutical companies and FDA regulators result in the death and injury of American citizens. Hopefully the Justice Department will send a strong message with the criminal indictment of Merck executives and FDA decision makers who were involved in what increasingly appears to be a conspiracy to conceal the negative side effects of Vioxx while the drug was heavily promoted and sold.
In a report filed by FDA researcher David Graham on November 2nd, it was revealed that Vioxx may have contributed to almost 28,000 heart attacks and deaths over the past five years. In response to all of this, the FDA has humorously announced that it's going to investigate itself and find out if it did anything wrong. It also said it will stop censoring its own scientists.
These statements, coming from an agency that seems sworn to protect the profits of the pharmaceutical industry, seem laughable. No one who is familiar with the facts surrounding this case and the ongoing behavior of the FDA is going to be fooled by such promises. What this is showing is the grand failure of the FDA and the whole system of drug approval and post-approval safety. It's showing that we as a nation are literally killing our own citizens with toxic chemicals that are approved by a corrupt agency that approves drugs based on distorted clinical trials and the suppression of negative evidence or information, including suppressing the free speech of scientists, researchers and outspoken physicians who are trying to warn people about the dangers of these drugs.
For many years, I have described this system as a drug racket and until recently I had received quite a bit of negative feedback about calling it that. But now, suddenly, it's quite clear to nearly everyone that we are witnessing a racket. This is being operated almost exactly like a criminal organization for which laws like the RICO Act were originally designed. This is a modern version of Al Capone, except instead of carrying pistols, his gang is carrying prescription drugs and rubber stamps that say "FDA approved."
Clearly, it is time to dismantle the FDA and reform it from the ground up. The FDA needs to be a regulatory body that actually regulates industries rather than promoting their financial interests. This should be common sense, but it has been long forgotten in the United States during the rush for corporate greed and shareholder profits.
But people like New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer have not forgotten these principles. And it is in fact Mr. Spitzer who is partly involved in the investigations against Merck. This is a man not to be taken lightly. He is, in my opinion, a true hero of law enforcement and he may yet take on Merck and other pharmaceutical giants to prove that even corporate kings cannot exploit the U.S. public for financial gain and get away with it for very long.
What I would like to see from all of this is justice served. There needs to be justice for the criminal actions committed by drug companies and the FDA. There needs to be justice for the potentially tens of thousands of people who were harmed or killed by the marketing of a drug that Merck knew was dangerous. There needs to be justice that questions the corporate philosophy that profits must be generated at all costs, no matter who is harmed in the process. For too long in the pharmaceutical industry, there has been an emphasis on making money regardless of the consequences. It's the Enron mentality, but now we're playing with lives, not just retirement funds.
It has all gone on far too long and it goes far beyond just Merck. There are literally dozens of pharmaceutical companies that are, right now, engaged in similar behavior. They are heavily promoting toxic drugs. They are burying negative evidence. They are distorting and exaggerating the benefits of these drugs. They are altering the results of clinical trials. They're ghostwriting scientific papers that are published in the names of other physicians. They are refusing to disclose the financial relationship between their own companies and the authors or physicians or industry groups that promote the interests of pharmaceutical companies. And the list goes on.
We've just learned, in fact, that Eli Lilly was apparently aware that its Prozac drug caused violent behavior and suicides thanks to shocking documents revealed in the British Medical Journal that have -- get this -- been missing for ten years. These documents, of course, have been buried for a decade.
This kind of corruption is so deeply rooted in American culture and throughout the conventional medical industry that the unraveling of it is going to take some time. But it will be time well spent, because in the end, we may have a system of medicine in this country that actually focuses on disease prevention. A system of medicine that teaches nutrition to doctors, that puts responsibility of health on patients and doesn't promise miracle cures in the shape of overly-priced pharmaceutical that, by the way, just might kill you even if used as directed.
And if you think about it, the drug industry in the United States has killed far more Americans than any terrorists group or all the murders and industrial accidents combined. The pharmaceutical industry is the third leading cause of death in this country, and that's according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. First there's cancer, second there's heart disease and third pharmaceuticals.
This is an industry that causes more pain, suffering and fatalities than any other industry in the country or in the world. It dwarfs the destruction caused by Big Tobacco. It is, indeed, Big Pharma, and it represents the very worst evils of society: corporate greed combined with bad medicine. And starting right now, the Justice Department and heroic defenders of the public good like Eliot Spitzer, Sidney Wolfe and Dr. David Graham now stand a chance to bring this evil empire to its knees. And should we be lucky enough as citizens of this society, someday we shall be free of this scourge of companies we now call "Big Pharma."