"I don’t want to run a marathon. I just want to go upstairs and give my grandson a bath.”
Remember that ad? A very nice fiftyish woman is happily playing with a two year old boy. She is free of pain because she takes Vioxx. This wonder drug has given her the ability to the simple things she enjoys doing.
Millions of people saw that commercial and asked their doctors about Vioxx. Merck, the pharmaceutical company that produced the drug, made lots of money.
Last year Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market because of links between taking Vioxx and an increase in heart disease and strokes. The Vioxx commercials disappared, to be replaced by commercials featuring lawyers asking “Have you or a loved one taken Vioxx and suffered these problems?”
Friday, the first of 4,000 law suits was decided. Texas widow Carol Ernst was awarded 250 million dollars for the wrongful death of her husband Robert, whose heart arhythmia was believed to be caused by taking Vioxx for eight months. The final amount of money Mrs. Ernst receives will be reduced to most likely a tenth of that award, but considering how many cases are out there waiting to be decided, it doesn’t bode well for Merck.
This is a very good thing.
The reason there are so many lawsuits claiming damage is because so many people took the drug. Why? It was advertised on television directly to consumers, who in turn asked their doctors to prescribe it. The results depended on the individual doctors, but a fair amount of physicians do write prescriptions for a particular drug when asked. And that’s what Vioxx was banking on.
But that strategy has come back to bite them in the butt.
I am hoping that all drug companies will take Merck’s legal troubles as a cue to completely re-think their advertising strategy. Despite the list of warnings, commercials for prescription drugs always make each one like some kind of magic elixir. Your cholesterol will go down, your heartburn will disappear, your bones will be stronger, your ugly yellow toe nails will grow in clear, your allergies will go away, you won’t get hot flashes, you won’t get pregnant, and of course, if you happen to be a man who needs a little help in the bedroom, you can get it up and keep it up and please that lovely woman of yours all night long. (in case of erections lasting four or more hours, seek immediate medical attention).
The truth is that these drugs can help but they can’t cure. They won’t work for every one who takes them. Plus they have side effects, some of which can be serious. (That toe nail drug can cause liver damage). The cost of advertising is included in the price of the drug, which just adds to the ever increasing cost of health care. The drug companies claim they are educating the consumer about certain health conditions, but who are they kidding? They’re in it to make money.
Perhaps the drug companies will decide that television advertising is not so great for business after all and go back to marketing exclusively to doctors. At the very least, we’ll be able to watch the news without the embarrassment of having to hear about erections lasting four hours.