Now, you might say, "Well, this seems like just one more case of a drug company trying to skew the results of a study after the fact, but what does it mean in the big picture?" The answer is there's a pattern here -- a pattern of suppression of negative results. When you combine this with some of the other actions that Merck has engaged in (which have been discussed in detail on this site) and some of which has been revealed in e-mails published by the Wall Street Journal, it paints a bigger picture. What's about to follow in this essay is my own personal opinion and my own assessment of this bigger picture.
In my opinion this is a pattern of suppressing negative information about Vioxx in order to protect profits. Obviously, if this negative information about Vioxx came out in the studies, Merck didn't want its name on it. The company likely wanted to only show the good side of Vioxx (the reduction in inflammation), and it never wanted to talk about the negative side effects of taking this drug, such as the increased heart attack risk.
It also occurs to me that Merck was well aware of the dangerous nature of Vioxx years before they ultimately decided to pull it off the market, and it appears the company was engaged in a consistent, conscious effort to discredit negative information about the drug. This influence extended well into the FDA, where people like drug researcher Dr. David Graham now say they were threatened with being fired if they didn't go along with the FDA's wishes to approve this drug and keep it on the market.
I've talked about all the ethical implications of this before, and as much as we should all be outraged at this behavior by Merck, I've actually grown weary of being outraged by it. You can be outraged once, twice, even three times, but being able to summon up that level of outrage in the face of new evidence seems to be rather redundant. Yes, I am outraged at Merck's apparent behavior, and yes, I think this company should be investigated and the top decision-makers of the company who engaged in this apparent scientific cover-up should be held not just financially responsible for the suffering and death these drugs have apparently caused, but even criminally liable for engaging in these actions. I'm sure Merck executives would disagree, although we may find the Justice Department, in fact, agrees with that assessment.
What may be even more important to note in all of this is the Vioxx cover-up further confirms the character of the drug companies in our modern day environment of drug promotion and suppression of negative side effects. I've often talked about the distortion of medical studies and how so-called evidence-based medicine is really little more than scientific fraud.
Merck’s effort to discredit this negative study is yet another example of that. Across Big Pharma, what companies do is fund and design studies which are carefully constructed in a way that will only highlight the positive effects of the drugs. In those rare circumstances where reality overpowers the design of the study and the negative effects are quite apparent, many companies go out of their way to suppress or cover up those findings and distance themselves from those study results. We've seen in many cases how these companies have attempted to suppress the publication of these studies or have threatened the careers of scientists who have administered studies that produced negative findings.
Drug researchers know if they don't produce positive results, they are very likely to find themselves out of work. You either play the game as a drug researcher and produce the results your employer wants, or you start looking for a new job. You may, in fact, be blacklisted from the entire industry if you dare reveal that drugs might actually be dangerous.
It would be very difficult to argue that the pharmaceutical industry today is out to actually help humanity. It doesn't mean some people aren't trying to those arguments, it's just they are painfully difficult to make. An honest person would say, "Okay, if a drug company discovered some drug was causing heart attacks, and if it had the best interests of its customers at heart, then it would have immediately alerted the FDA and voluntarily withdrawn the drug very early on in the game and not waited years."
It's also reasonable to say that if drug companies were truly interested in the welfare of the patients, they wouldn't engage in direct-to-consumer advertising. Instead, they would focus on providing information to doctors to allow them to make informed decisions about what pharmaceuticals might be beneficial to their patients. But common sense has not prevailed: the industry pressured the FDA to legalize direct-to-consumer advertising in 1998, and since that time drug ads have polluted the airways and the world of print publications, and prescriptions for those advertised drugs have risen considerably as a direct result of the advertising.
The drug companies know this: Advertising works. Thus, they continue to run those ads and they continue to focus on the promotion of pharmaceuticals for profit rather than education about chemical agents that should be used with caution, and only in specific circumstances.
For example: We've learned that Vioxx, Bextra and other COX-2 inhibitors were widely prescribed to people who didn't need them. They were over-prescribed, over-exaggerated, over–hyped and over-marketed. Many of the people who were taking those drugs would have been far safer, in fact many would be alive today, if they had been taking over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs instead. They also would have saved a small fortune. These COX-2 inhibitor drugs have been prescribed simply because they were the 'in' thing. They were popular; they were being promoted. Few of the prescriptions were made based on scientific fact or medical necessity.
So when you hear people talk about so-called 'evidence-based medicine,' remember that most of the people whose mouths those words emerge from actually live in a world of outrageous scientific distortion. There's very little real evidence in the world of evidence-based medicine. It's largely distortion, hype, promotion, influence, corruption, intimidation and denial.
So much for evidence. So much for hard science. What we see today is really just a drug racket disguised as evidence-based medicine. It is wearing the clothes of hard science, but has the character of Al Capone, and that is the system under which we all live and suffer and die today.
Of course, you can escape the system by avoiding all prescription drugs, and there is a way to do it intelligently and safely. Just alter your lifestyle so you don't have to depend on prescription drugs. Move to a doctor who will help you get off of these drugs or find a naturopathic physician; and be a critical, skeptical consumer. Don't believe the latest hype when a drug ad says you won't feel depressed by ingesting their high-profit synthetic chemicals.
If a drug company says, "This is the latest, greatest drug. It's safer for you than anything you've ever seen before, and it'll take away your pain," you should likewise be skeptical and not believe that either. As we have seen recently, both of these promises by drug companies have turned out to be not just distortions, but outright lies. In both cases, drug companies were well aware of the negative side effects of these drugs and yet chose, for their own reasons, to avoid going public with the information. It's probably not difficult to imagine what those reasons might have been.
It’s interesting to note that two years ago, when I was saying much of the same thing you're reading here, my views were considered extreme. Today this position on Big Pharma, and the corruption of the FDA, and the suppression of scientific evidence, is quite widely recognized as the way things really operate in the world of medicine. Even the former editor of the British Medical Journal has called the industry corrupt.
Finally, the truth is slowly starting to get out. People are beginning to see things as they are, and they're recognizing that the drug industry is out to do only one thing: generate drug company profits. It has nothing whatsoever to do with enhancing human health. Today, this position is becoming mainstream. Even doctors are (finally!) becoming more skeptical of drug companies. I've talked to drug company reps who say selling their drugs to doctors is becoming increasingly difficult because these doctors are no longer willing to blindly accept the promises of drug companies.
So, that's where we are today in terms of Big Pharma. You might wonder where we are heading tomorrow. Let me offer a loose prediction: In the future of medicine, we won't be using these pharmaceuticals. The practices carried out today by drug companies and doctors will one day be seen as quite barbaric and rather ridiculous. There will continue to be a rapid shift away from synthetic pharmaceuticals, toward natural health, lifestyle changes, diet, nutrition and disease prevention.
The pharmaceutical industry has been its own worst enemy in all of this. It has overplayed its greed to such an extent that the industry is now in a mode of self-destruction. Its market value is withering away with each passing day, its credibility is plummeting at an accelerating pace and patients and doctors are wising up to the fact that pharmaceuticals are not the answer to health.
We've just seen the tip of the iceberg here. We're going to see far more pronouncements and new evidence emerging of how drug companies covered up the facts, distorted the science and misled the public just in order to generate more profits. As that happens, more and more people are going to wake up to the reality that Big Pharma is really a Big Lie.
Organized medicine, simply put, is one giant money-making sham based on junk science.