By Dr. Mercola
What would you say if you knew someone had killed 60,000 people? Would you call it a felony of the worst kind, times 60,000? If you totaled up the value of all those lives in criminal court, what would you say they're worth?
Or—how about a measly $321 million in exchange for a guilty plea to a misdemeanor? When you consider that this involves the second-largest drug maker in the U.S.—Merck—and its deadly drug Vioxx, then you'll probably agree that a misdemeanor and a $321 million fine amounts to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
Business analysts were estimating a $25 billion judgment when the drug was taken off the market, but even when combined with the $4.85 billion in payouts to patients who suffered heart attacks and strokesi, the final bill is nowhere close to original estimates of the damage.
Yet that's the plea agreement Merck recently made with a federal court in Boston on April 19ii, after being charged with illegal promotion of Vioxx for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, before it was approved for that use.
The sad tale brings up memories of what I tried to warn readers about in 1999, when I showed that people taking this drug were at a massively increased risk of dying from heart disease and stroke. It's tragic that Vioxx was removed only AFTER 60,000 people died.
It's even more tragic that a court would consider Merck's illegal promotion of the drug a misdemeanor rather than a felony, since this tactic clearly exposed far more people to the dangerous drug than it would have otherwise. And, adding insult to injury, instead of the billions that Merck anticipated paying out, it got away with such a paltry sum.
Hired Writers Responsible for Some of Merck's Vioxx Studies?
Particularly galling is the fact that these deaths could have been so easily avoided, were it not for the deceptive maneuvering of parties who stood to profit handsomely from the success of the drug.
Ghostwriting has become an increasingly troublesome problem in the medical science community, and the Vioxx debacle is a perfect example of why ghostwriting medical research is a devious practice that needs to be rooted out.
Merck has previously acknowledged that it has been known to hire professional writers to develop research-related documents that eventually get published under the name of reputable leaders in the medical community. Critics rightfully doubt the validity of such research, and question the actual involvement of the scientists listed as authors of these ghostwritten papers.
Back in 2008, Dr. Joseph S. Ross of New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine came across ghostwritten research studies for Vioxx while reviewing documents related to lawsuits filed against Merck.
According to an April 16, 2008 article on MedHeadlinesiii:
"In about 96 journal publications, Ross and his colleagues discovered internal Merck documents and e-mail messages pertaining to clinical study reports and review articles, some of which were developed by the company's marketing department, not its scientific department. In others, there is little evidence that the authors recruited for the report made substantial contribution to the research itself. ... Some of the authors listed in the Merck study reports of concern... question the true nature of ghostwriting. One neurologist originally listed as "External author?" and then listed as Dr. Leon J. Thal, of the University of California, San Diego in the final draft, died a year ago in an airplane crash."
An editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)iv that year by Drs. Psaty and Kronmal also questioned whether Merck might have deliberately manipulated dozens of academic documents published in the medical literature, in order to promote Vioxx under false pretenses.
Blockbuster Drugs Tend to Be More Unnecessary than Others
Vioxx was a so-called blockbuster drug—a designation given to extremely popular drugs that generate a minimum of $1 billion in annual sales. Vioxx was marketed in more than 80 countries, and pulled in $2.5 billion in worldwide sales in 2003 alone (the year before it was pulled from the market due to its heart risks). So despite paying out fines in various lawsuits over the drug, Merck certainly made enough from it to cover all such expenses and still make obscene profits while patients were dying in droves.
An important strategy for creating a true blockbuster drug—at least in the United States—is the use of direct to consumer advertising.
A little over 20 years ago direct-to-consumer advertising for drugs was not allowed in the US. Drug advertising is still illegal in most countries around the world, except for the US. If Big Pharma wanted to sell a product, they had to do it through the person prescribing it—your doctor. If a physician didn't have time to listen to sales reps or attend conferences where new drugs were pushed, well then, sometimes they just didn't get pushed on you.
But ever since drug advertising became legal in the U.S., Big Pharma has been making big bucks selling you pills that not only are expensive, but intended to keep you hooked on them for life. As with most advertised consumer products, drugs with blockbuster potential are not necessarily important life-saving drugs. No, rather than curing actual disease, these drugs tend to be focused on the treatment of symptoms—symptoms that many people tend to experience, and which may or may not be caused by a particular disease...
Oftentimes, symptom complexes will be given official-sounding designations, to make it appear more like an actual disease. Either way, since these types of drugs cannot cure anything, they must be taken indefinitely—until you die or cannot afford them anymore. According to Melody Petersen, author of Our Daily Medsv:
"Most blockbusters are pills for conditions such as anxiety, high cholesterol or constipation that must be taken daily, often for months or years. They are designed for rich Americans who can afford to buy them."
6 Kinds of Pills Big Pharma Tries to Get You Hooked on for Life
There are two effective marketing strategies employed by drug companies on a regular basis, and they include:
- Convincing you that drugs you used to take only when you needed them are now everyday "prevention" necessities in the form of a prescription; and
- Selling you the idea that just being at risk for a chronic disease makes you someone who should be taking a drug for the disease.
What makes these two strategies so successful is that by seeing the advertisement, YOU are the one who sells it to your doctor, by suggesting that you need a certain drug, or outright asking for it. According to a recent article by Martha Rosenbergvi:
"Since direct-to-consumer drug advertising debuted in the late 1990s, the number of people on prescription drugs -- especially prescription drugs for life -- has ballooned. Between 2001 to 2007 the percentage of adults and children on one or more prescriptions for chronic conditions rose by more than 12 million, reports the Associated Press and 25 percent of US children now take a medication for a chronic conditionvii. Seven percent of kids take two or more daily drugs.
Who says advertising doesn't work? Of the top-selling drugs in 2011viii, led by Lipitor, Nexium, Plavix, Advair Diskus, Abilify, Seroquel, Singulair and Crestor, none is taken occasionally, or "as needed" and the treatment goal is never to get off the drug, like an antibiotic."
She lists six types of drugs that are "marketed for perpetuity," meaning they're intended to be taken for life. Sadly most of these drugs come with potential side effects that can be far worse than your original symptom, and few of them have been definitively proven to actually provide any significant health benefits. In fact, some of these drugs have been found to worsen the very condition they're meant to treat (such as antidepressants, statins, proton pump inhibitors, and asthma-control meds), and/or cause other serious diseases. For more information, please follow the hyperlinks provided:
ADHD Drugs and Drugs for Pediatric Psychopathologies, such as "pediatric bipolar disorder" Statins Hormone Replacement Therapy Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) Asthma-Control Medicines
Bribery, Fraud, and Deception Hurts YOU in More Ways than One...
Unfortunately, all of this medical deception (and at times outright fraud) is part and parcel of a much larger problem: the near unchecked system of corporate bribery that drives our political processes.
The pharmaceutical industry is the BIGGEST political lobby in the U.S.. There should be no doubt about the power the drug industry wields in shaping the U.S. health care system and all the laws relating to the industry. Political lobbying is one of the primary reasons why the drug companies control nearly the entire health industry, and why alternative medicine is under such constant legislative attack. For greater insight into this problem, please review this previous article, featuring a 60-Minutes segment with Jack Abramoff, a former lobbyist.
In recent news, we get further indications of how pervasive lobbying fraud and illegalities are.
In a submission to the Internal Revenue Service under the Tax Whistleblower Act, a nonpartisan advocacy organization, Common Causeix, has exposed what amounts to a tax scam run by a legislative group known as ALEC, for some of American's largest companies. ALEC stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council, which describes as a public-private partnership between member legislators and business leaders.
According to legal papers filed with the IRS, Common Cause believes that ALEC's lobbying efforts for "model" legislation are tailored to boost the profits of its corporate members—a violation of its tax-exempt status. While ALEC claims it doesn't do lobbying, the Huffington Post reports that at least one state, South Carolina, has written a special exemption for ALEC so it can engage in a type of lobbying. The whistleblower letter to the IRS reads in part:
"... This matter concerns the massive underreporting of lobbying by the American Legislative Exchange Council ("ALEC"). While ostensibly a nonprofit organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, ALEC's primary purpose is to provide a vehicle for its corporate members to lobby state legislators and to deduct the costs of such efforts as charitable contributions. ALEC drafts "model" legislation provided by its corporate and legislative members, and lobbies for the adoption of that legislation. These goals are fundamentally inconsistent with ALEC's claimed tax-exempt status as a charitable organization under 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3), because (i) "no substantial part" of a charity's activity can be "attempting to influence legislation," and (ii) ALEC's activities do not qualify under any of the enumerated purposes of Section 501(c)(3).
This scheme causes harm to taxpayers in two distinct ways. First, ALEC's activities constitute an abuse of its 501(c)(3) tax exemption, which is reserved for organizations "operated exclusively " for a limited number of purposes, such as "religious, charitable, scientific ... or educational purposes ...." 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3).
Second, ALEC's corporate members improperly deduct from their taxable income the dues and other contributions made to ALEC; such expenditures are non-deductible lobbying expenses under Section 162(e). In fact, because ALEC solicits very few contributions from individuals, its false claims of tax-exempt status appear driven by the desire of ALEC corporate members to deduct lobbying expenses as charitable contributions..."
Why are Soldiers Dying in Their Sleep?
While lobbying may have its place—when done in a transparent and legal way to inform legislators, and not to simply buy their votes by any means necessary—the practice has deteriorated to the point that it is endangering the health and welfare of people everywhere. Dangerous drugs are brought to market and used in lieu of harmless alternatives, and polypharmacy, the taking of too many drugs, is becoming ever more dangerous.
A case in point is the growing problem of U.S. soldiers literally dying in their sleep...
They survived the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But instead of bombs and guns, a growing number of U.S. veterans of these wars, whether they're still deployed or back at home, are being downed by something else. They die in different ways but they all have one thing in common—at the time of their deaths they're on a cocktail of drugs prescribed for them by military doctors.
Video description: CNN Reports on military personnel dying from drug toxicity.
Such deaths have been occurring for years, but they were recently brought to light by a West Virginia couple who shared the story of their son, Andrew White, with ABC News. Andrew died in 2008 of fatal drug intoxication. The Whites blame the prescriptions their son was on for his death. According to a report by ABC11x:
""We call it the lethal cocktail. It's antidepressants, antipsychotics and analgesics. It's just overloading, and your body can't take it," Stan [White] explained. The Whites said Andrew was taking Seroquel, Klonopin, and Paxil. They still have the pills prescribed by Veteran's Administration doctors to treat Andrew's post-traumatic stress disorder... "He made that choice to trust the VA and that trust cost him his life," [Mrs. White] continued."
The twist to the story is that within weeks of Andrew's death, three other war veterans—all of whom were taking the same drugs Andrew was on—also died in their sleep. It seemed like too much of a coincidence to San Diego neurologist Dr. Fred Baughman, so he combed newspaper articles and obituaries and created a list of 300 military deaths linked to sudden cardiac arrest. Surprisingly, they were all men in their 20's, many of whom died quietly in their beds. According to Dr. Baughman, these deaths appear to be caused by the antipsychotics and antidepressants these young men were all taking.
Just weeks before White died, U.S. Surgeon General Eric B. Schoomaker had also publicly acknowledged that the military was experiencing a series of deaths that "often (were) a consequence of the use of multiple prescription and nonprescription medicines and alcohol." Antipsychotics and antidepressants have been linked to many of the deaths. Another family who has stepped forward with their story is John and Mary Nahas, who nearly lost their son Michael after he returned from Iraq. ABC11 reports:
"Look at all the drugs they had him on," Mary said, showing ABC11 cameras a list that includes Oxycodone, Xanax, Percocet, Klonopin, Celexa, Lunesta, and Ambien.
"I ran the list of medications by my niece - who was a psychologist in a psychiatric hospital - and she said: 'Oh Mary, that's a cocktail of death, they're trying to kill him,'" said Mary. "When they returned our son to us, he looked like a concentration camp victim. He was thin. He was gray in color," she continued. The Nahas say the medication prescribed for their son's PTSD made him attempt suicide."We noticed a decline in his personality from the drugs. They change cognition and behavior. We noticed anger, just couldn't think straight," said Mary. "The drugs had messed him up so badly."
The Veterans Administration investigated Andrew White's death and ruled that his doctors had done nothing wrong, as they met "the community standards of care." Sadly, just as with conventional cancer treatment, the "standard of care" is oftentimes just as deadly as the disease... Still, the White's are pushing for a Congressional investigation into the overmedication of military service personnel. They want VA doctors to reduce their reliance on toxic drugs, and focus on other therapies such as counseling and outdoor activities.
I couldn't agree more.
There's a mountain of evidence supporting the use of such alternatives, and there's very strong evidence that some alternative treatments, such as exercise, are FAR more effective than any of the drugs currently in use. For more information about this, please listen to my interview with Robert Whitaker, author of Mad in America, and Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America.
- i The New York Times November 10, 2007
- ii Reuters April 19, 2012
- iii MedHeadlines April 16, 2008
- ivJAMA 2008;299(15):1813-1817
- v AlterNet April 26, 2012
- vi AlterNet April 26, 2012
- vii The Wall Street Journal December 28, 2010
- viii Forbes Magazine April 19, 2011
- ix Common Cause April 20, 2012
- x WTVD-TV Raleigh-Durham April 26, 2012