Marketing gone mad

I defend the pharmaceutical companies a lot here, and with good reason; they produce lifesaving drugs. More please! Nonetheless, one criticism I don't see made enough is that pharmaceutical companies don't seem to realize that they can't sell pills the way you sell detergent. For starters, the things do have side effects that could kill people, so you shouldn't try to persuade people to take drugs they don't need. But from a purely selfish perspective, any company that is seen to be mixing the profit motive too closely with our health care will eventually get sentenced to death by the court of public opinion. Derek Lowe has more:

I agree that Merck is still doing some excellent science, as they always have. And they still have a lot of good people there, as they always have. Those aren’t the problems. And they’re still introducing some innovative drugs, arguably more than a lot of other companies, and that’s not the problem, either. These are all are admirable things.

And Vioxx, as I said here at the time, was not, in my opinion, necessarily a bad drug. It and the other COX-2 inhibitors have a real place in the pharmacopeia. The problem is that Merck – or, to put the usual face-saving perspective on it, Merck’s marketing department – oversold the stuff. The prospect of an aspirin-sized market was too much for them to resist, so the company pushed Vioxx just about as hard as they possibly could.

Yep, Vioxx was for all kinds of patients, all kinds of pain, all the time – and under those conditions, whatever side effects were there were finally revealed. It’s the company’s bad luck (not to mention the bad luck of their patients) that those effects were as potentially severe as they were. Even so, the increased risk of a heart attack with Vioxx use is extremely small in any absolute sense. For people with severe pain who can’t get relief with other drugs, I think a COX-2 inhibitor is absolutely worth it.