Merck caught in scandal to bury Vioxx heart attack risks, intimidate scientists and keep pushing dangerous drugs; Vioxx lawsuits now forming

Saturday, November 06, 2004
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
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The truth has finally come out about Vioxx: insider emails published by the Wall Street Journal reveal that Merck, the maker of Vioxx, was fully aware of the health risks of its COX-2 inhibitor anti-inflammatory drug as early as March, 2000. As is apparent from the published emails, there was a concerted effort to bury the negative evidence and even distort the drug trials by excluding heart patients from the Vioxx studies so that, "...the rate of cardiovascular problems for Vioxx patients would not be evident."

This has all been revealed now, thanks to the publication of Merck's own insider emails. One email, authored by Edward Scolnick, chief of research for Merck, says that cardiovascular risks, "...are clearly there." Additional emails contribute to the evidence that points to a fairly straightforward case of consumer deception.

Statements from several of these emails were recently published in a scathing article at the Wall Street Journal, which wrote, "Merck's first worry, in the mid-to-late 1990s, was that its drug would show greater heart risk than cheaper painkillers that were harsh on the stomach but were believed to reduce the risk of heart attacks. Several company officials discussed in e-mails how to design a study that would minimize the unflattering comparison, even while admitting to themselves that it would be difficult to conceal."

Even the medical journals are astonished at Merck's behavior. Dr. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet (one of the most respected journals in the world), says, "the licensing of Vioxx and its continued use in the face of unambiguous evidence of harm have been public health catastrophes. This controversy will not end with the drug's withdrawal. Merck's likely litigation bill is put at between $10bn and $15bn. The company has seen its revenues and its capitalization slashed. It has been financially disabled and its reputation lies in ruins. It is not at all clear that Merck will survive this growing scandal."

Merck threatens scientists to suppress anti-Vioxx information

Merck has even been caught red-handed trying to suppress negative information about its drugs. Gurkirpal Singh, a Stanford University researcher, was threatened by the company and told he would "flame out" (meaning his career would be ended) unless he stopped giving "anti-Merck" lectures. This has now been revealed in a letter of complaint written to Merck by Dr. James Fries, a Stanford University Medical School professor, who went on to say, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, "There is a line that you can't go across. ... It had gone over that line."

And it wasn't just Stanford University, either: chief researchers at several top medical schools were being threatened by Merck. Dr. James Fries called it, "a consistent pattern of intimidation of investigators by Merck."

Merck's Chief Executive Raymond Gilmartin, in response, says it the firm has "a deep and abiding commitment to the highest ethical standards in all our dealings with physicians and other healthcare providers." Sure it does. And Vioxx is good for you, too.

As if all this wasn't enough, a Merck training manual was developed and distributed to help company officials fend off criticisms about Vioxx and instill pro-Vioxx propaganda in the minds of doctors. The document listed questions about the safety of Vioxx and said in capital letters, "DODGE!" Internally, it was even called the "Dodge Ball Vioxx" document. The primary purpose of the document was to convince doctors to keep prescribing Vioxx, even while evidence of the drug's dangers mounted.

Classic Big Pharma behavior

What does all this add up to? It's Big Pharma as usual, folks: distorted clinical studies, lying to consumers, threatening critics, burying negative evidence and all the while heavily promoting the drug to physicians and consumers. This is exactly what I've been talking about all along. These companies are knowingly harming patients just so they can keep selling dangerous drugs to a population that's generally too uninformed to know any better. And most conventional physicians just kept on prescribing the drug, oblivious to the true causes of disease or health.

Given all the damning evidence about Vioxx and its handling by Merck, does the company apologize and try to make amends? Of course not. Merck said in a recent news release that it "acted responsibly and appropriately as it developed and marketed Vioxx."

See, it's not just that these pharmaceutical companies act with reckless endangerment to the public, it's also the stunning fact that they don't see anything wrong with it. They will develop a dangerous drug, distort the clinical trials, lean on the FDA for approval, threaten scientists who speak out against the drug, and finally when the body bags start mounting, they'll claim they are innocent and have been acting ethically and honestly all along.

Dangerous drugs still generate profits

Yet the pattern of exploiting the public for profit is quite clear. An email authored by Dr. Scolnick, Merck's research chief, during the development of Vioxx reveals that even though the drug was known to be dangerous, it was bound to be a great seller just like the company's other drugs which, he admitted, are also dangerous: "We have a great drug and like angioedema with vasotec and seizures with primaxin and myopathy with mevacor there is always a hazard. The class will do well and so will we."

By saying, "The class will do well and so will we," he clearly means that despite the health hazards of the drugs, they're going to sell well anyway, and everyone who owns stock at Merck (or who works at Merck) is going to financial benefit from that.

Even prestigious medical journals (which are funded primarily by drug advertising money, by the way), joined in pumping up the credibility of Vioxx. In November, 2000, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article written by academics who were literally paid by Merck. This article heralded the "benefits" of Vioxx in reducing stomach problems and -- get this -- reducing heart attack rates. The article, of course, left out all the negative information about Vioxx, including what was obvious even in 2000: that Vioxx increased the risk of heart attacks, strokes and blood clots, even in healthy people.

The FDA: asleep at the wheel

For its part, the FDA does nothing to protect consumers. As always, the agency ignored the dangers of prescription drugs and, for many years, continued to allow Merck to keep pushing this dangerous drug right up to the day the evidence was undeniable and the drug was finally pulled. The behavior of the FDA was so irresponsible (if not downright criminal) that it earned itself scathing criticism from The Lancet, where Dr. Horton explained, "This discovery points to astonishing failures in Merck's internal systems of post-marketing surveillance, as well as to lethal weaknesses in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's regulatory oversight." (Emphasis added.) This phrase, "lethal weaknesses," has never before been used to describe the FDA... at least not by anybody in the medical industry. It means, simply stated, that the FDA's mistakes are killing people.

In effect, the FDA acted as a Big Pharma propaganda machine, catering to the interests of drug companies at every turn. In 2001, when the FDA became increasingly aware of the dangers of the drug, it went to Merck and asked the company to include prominent new warnings on the drug label. Merck balked and complained that the FDA should, instead, highlight the drug's positive gastrointestinal features. Instead of demanding the inclusion of the warning label (like a fully empowered regulatory body might do), the FDA caved in and actually reached a compromise with Merck that resulted in a new label promoting the claim that Vioxx would caused fewer stomach upsets! Below that claim, in small print, it mentioned that the drug would also cause more heart attacks and strokes.

Meanwhile, people were dying. How many people were harmed or killed in those four years during which Merck and the FDA hid the truth about Vioxx? And how many other drugs are just as dangerous and yet heavily promoted? According to the American Medical Association, prescription drugs kill -- yes, kill -- 100,000 Americans each year. Another document, Death by Medicine authored in part by Dr. Gary Null, shows as many as 750,000 people being killed each year by medications and surgical procedures combined. Clearly, these deaths dwarf the fatalities caused by terrorists, wars, and all national crime statistics combined.

Drug companies far more dangerous than terrorists

It leads to a startling, but true, conclusion: drug companies are killing far more Americans than all terrorists, murderers and criminals combined, and yet the deaths are allowed to go on thanks to a Bush Administration that's closely allied with Big Pharma and a Food and Drug Administration that might as well be called the "Drug Promotion Agency."

"the FDA continues to see the pharmaceutical industry as its customer -- a vital source of funding for its activities -- and not as a sector of society in need of strong regulation." - Dr. Richard Horton, editor, The Lancet


I'm outraged by this. I'm outraged by the pain, suffering and fatalities that are caused every day by prescription drugs. I'm outraged by the behavior of the FDA and its campaign to discredit herbs and vitamins while ignoring far more dangerous prescription drugs. I'm outraged by the drug company executives who earn millions of dollars each year peddling dangerous drugs to elderly people who have to choose between food and medicine because they can't afford the sky-high prices of prescription drugs. I'm outraged by the FDA's efforts to monopolize the U.S. drug market, ban drug imports from Canada, and force senior citizens to pay ridiculous prices for deadly drugs. And I'm outraged by a national media that's so tied to drug company advertising revenues that we'll probably never be able to repeal direct-to-consumer advertising (which is partly responsible for this Vioxx mess).

It's time for serious action. It's time to go after these criminal pharmaceutical executives and charge them with the crimes they have committed against humanity. It's time to hit these companies where it hurts: right in the pocketbook. It's time to put Merck and its competition out of business for good... and thereby save the lives of untold Americans who can be spared the harm caused by prescription drugs.

And here's how I'm going to help make that happen:

For the first time ever, I am publicly supporting legal action against a pharmaceutical company. Today, I am announcing that I will assist individuals who were harmed by Vioxx in filing lawsuits against Merck for the damage caused by their products. I'll do this by getting you in touch with capable legal teams who are involved in ongoing legal action against the pharmaceutical giant. So if you've taken Vioxx and want to join what could become a multi-billion-dollar settlement against Merck, contact us at [email protected] and include your name and address. We'll forward your information to a legal team who will take it from there. (We're doing this at no charge, and without any financial compensation of any kind.)

Or, you can search on Google or some other search engine and find a legal team yourself. Whatever you do, don't sit back. This is not just about getting a financial reward for yourself, this is about bankrupting an evil empire that is knowingly damaging the health of millions of people in order to make a buck. And these "smoking gun" emails are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Who knows how many more evils are taking place behind closed doors at Merck and other companies, where the business philosophy seems to be, "profits at all costs!" Ethics be damned. These companies are going to sell you drugs that may, indeed, kill you. And they're going to keep raising the prices each year, too, so you have to pay more even while you continue to be harmed. It is unethical, unjust, and unacceptable.

It's time to stand up and take action. If you've been harmed by Vioxx, I urge you to demand justice and join the legal action against Merck. Let's put this company out of business for good and send a message to Big Pharma that they can no longer exploit Americans' health for their own corporate greed.

Steal this article

What else can you do to help defeat Merck? Steal this article. Post it on your website, email it to your friends, print it out and hand it to your coworkers. Tell people what you know about Merck, Vioxx and the FDA, and encourage people to join the lawsuit effort against this pharmaceutical giant. Here's the URL to give people who want to read this article:

Let's make this the mostly costly lawsuit in the history of medicine. Let's bankrupt Merck and thereby protect Americans from the company's future drugs, which will no doubt have even more dangerous side effects. It's time to put this evil empire out of business for the good of all mankind.

The natural Vioxx alternative: astaxanthin

One more thing: for those of you who took Vioxx and are now looking for a natural replacement for it, I have the answer for you. It's a nutritional supplement called "astaxanthin," and it's an all-natural antioxidant that works wonders for eliminating join pain, especially pain associated with osteoarthritis and even rheumatoid arthritis. I'm putting together a special report on this product in the near future where I'll reveal the astounding properties of this nutritional supplement. It's something I'm using myself now, and it has increased my joint flexibility and all but eliminated muscle soreness after my demanding gymnastics workouts. It's also fantastic for athletic performance, both in terms of strength and endurance.

Where can you get astaxanthin? There are only two sources, and I've interviewed them both. In fact, I negotiated discounts with them on behalf of NaturalNews readers, so if you use the discount codes provided on the Astaxanthin Sources page (click here), you'll save a bundle on these supplements. (And, no, I don't earn a dime from these supplements. You know my policy: no financial involvement with products I recommend. That's quite a contrast from drug companies who will apparently sell you anything as long as they're making money.)

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About the author: Mike Adams is an award-winning journalist and holistic nutritionist with a passion for sharing empowering information to help improve personal and planetary health He has authored and published thousands of articles, interviews, consumers guides, and books on topics like health and the environment, and he has created several downloadable courses on survival and preparedness, including his widely-downloaded course on personal safety and self-defense. Adams is an independent journalist with strong ethics who does not get paid to write articles about any product or company. In 2010, Adams co-founded NaturalNews.com, a natural health video sharing site that has now grown in popularity. He's also a noted technology pioneer and founded a software company in 1993 that developed the HTML email newsletter software currently powering the NaturalNews subscriptions. Adams volunteers his time to serve as the executive director of the Consumer Wellness Center, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and enjoys outdoor activities, nature photography, Pilates and martial arts training. He's also author a large number of health books offered by Truth Publishing and is the creator of numerous reference website including NaturalPedia.com and the free downloadable Honest Food Guide. His websites also include the free reference sites HerbReference.com and HealingFoodReference.com. Adams believes in free speech, free access to nutritional supplements and the innate healing ability of the human body. Known by his callsign, the 'Health Ranger,' Adams posts his missions statements, health statistics and health photos at www.HealthRanger.org

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Related Articles:

The FDA Exposed: An Interview With Dr. David Graham, the Vioxx Whistleblower

The great direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising con: how patients and doctors alike are easily influenced to demand dangerous drugs

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