Vioxx Withdrawal

Vioxx is off the shelves and off the medicine cabinets. In five years, Vioxx took a dive from being a super drug for arthritis and acute pain to the dust bin.

It was a made in Canada drug. Last year, 3.4 million prescriptions were filled by Canadians, and 84 million people swallowed the pill around the world. Worldwide sales of Vioxx in 2003 were $2.5 billion.

Soon after the withdrawal of Vioxx, the stock price of Merck and Co., a U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant, the world’s second-largest drug maker, fell $12.07, or 26.8 per cent, to close at an eight-year low of $33 in New York.

The company’s legal problems continue to grow as it was hit with class-action lawsuits in Canada and USA.

So, why all the fuss about Vioxx?

It is simple. It is a good drug for arthritis and acute pain but it is not good for the heart. And here is how they found out.

A study was designed to evaluate the efficacy of Vioxx 25 mg. in preventing recurrence of colon and rectal polyps in patients with a history of colon and rectal adenomas (pre-malignant polyps).

The study, involving 2,600 patients between the ages of 40 and 96, was to have lasted three years. But last week, just 18 months into the research, the company learned the risk of heart attack and stroke was double in patients taking Vioxx and halted the trial.

This information was not new to the company. Previous studies had created a suspicion that Vioxx might be bad for the heart. The question is: Why did it take so long for the company to come to grips with the situation? Is there something wrong with the regulations, the way new drugs are brought into market?

Two weeks ago, we discussed in this column, the side-effects and dangers of using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS). The column can be read again on my website: www.nbharwani.com. These drugs are used to treat arthritis but do increase the risk of ulcers or bleeding in the stomach in the long term. Vioxx comparatively had fewer gastrointestinal complications.

The drug had become very popular. Some doctors have even prescribed Vioxx to young girls to treat menstrual cramps although it is not approved for use in children.

Why does Vioxx increase the risk of heart problems?

The answer is not clear. It probably raises the blood pressure. Now the tables have turned. At this time, I presume, the blood pressure of the CEO of Merck and Co. must be fairly high.

What happens now?

Arthritis affects millions of Canadians and they are all looking for pain relief. Nobody likes pain. Especially, if it is painful to move and walk. There are many drugs in the market for arthritis. Your physician will have to carefully evaluate your situation and advise you accordingly. Do not make any drastic or sudden changes in your medications until you have discussed the situation with your doctor.

Thought for the week:
“I joined a health club last year, spent about 400 bucks. Haven’t lost a pound yet. Apparently, you have to go there.”

E-mail from a friend.

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