Vioxx, a commonly used drug, was voluntarily pulled from the market by Merck on September 30, 2004 for causing heart attacks and strokes.
84 million people have taken Vioxx since 1999. In 2000, shortly after the drug's release, Merck & Co., the makers of Vioxx knew that it exposed patients to significantly higher risks for heart attack and stroke. But Vioxx was extremely profitable for Merck. Sales of Vioxx reach $1.5 billion in 2000, and by 2003 had nearly doubled to $2.5 billion dollars.
Vioxx was prescribed for a variety of ailments from osteoarthritis to moderate menstrual pain. In September 2004, the FDA approved its use for rheumatoid arthritis even in children as young as . Three weeks later, the drug was pulled from the market.
By 2001, Merck knew that there were studies showing not only increased risks for stroke and heart attack for Vioxx users, but also blood clotting, especially in the legs, hypertension and kidney problems. Between 2000 and 2004, several well respected publications and medical groups raised the alarm about the dangers of Vioxx. Cautionary articles were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and Lancet, the premier British medical journal. The American Heart Association and the Arthritis Foundation called for more rigorous safety studies for Vioxx. Large medical providers such as Kaiser Permanente, Aetna and Cigna Health Care also warned of the very real dangers of the drug.
In spite of all the warnings, Merck continued to advertise and sell Vioxx. In a single 18 month period, Merck spent nearly $124 million dollars to advertise Vioxx. The company was more interested in its bottom line than it was in the health, safety and well-being of the public.
Instead of responding to the warnings with a careful study of its money-making drug, Merck ignored the facts and insisted that Vioxx was safe.
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