Wonder Drugs That Make You Wonder

In some recent exchanges between yours truly and Granny, who, by profession, is a pharmacy technician, we learned from Granny that the recently-pulled-off-the-market arthritis drug Vioxx (from Merck… its stock price has suffered some…) was only the beginning.
We learn today from a respected scientist (and government drug reviewer), David Graham, that at least five more FDA-approved drugs pose imminent risks, and should be pulled off the market immediately. These drugs are Meridia (a weight-loss drug which creates risks of higher blood pressure and stroke among people taking it), Crestor (an anti-cholesterol drug that causes occurrence of renal failure and other serious side effects among people taking it, while two of three other statin competitors prevent heart attack and stroke and do not cause renal failure),
Accutane (an acne drug linked to birth defects; Graham said the drug represents a 20-year “regulatory failure” by the FDA and sales should be restricted immediately ), Bextra (a painkiller that Graham says poses the same heart attack and stroke risk as Vioxx) and Serevent (an asthma treatment that Graham says has shown, with 90 percent certainty in a long-term trial in England, to cause deaths due to asthma;”We’ve got case reports of people dying, clutching their Serevent inhaler,” Graham said. “But Serevent is still on the market.”). Drug makers defended the use and safety of their products, as did, of course, the pharmaceutical industry council, also known as the “Food and Drug Administration”.
Graham contended the country is “virtually defenseless” against a repeat of the Vioxx debacle, because of hopeless conflicts within the FDA, and a defective mechanism to ensure drug safety. Naturally, Dr. Steven Galson of the FDA rejected that comment as having “no basis in fact.” Merck & Co. previously pulled Vioxx from the market on Sept. 30 after a study indicated the popular painkiller doubled the risk of heart attacks and stroke when taken for longer than 18 months.
Again, Granny believes this is the tip of the iceberg: no one (for example) is keeping track of the unbelievable number of possible adverse drug interactions, particularly from long term use, of the ever increasing and more complicated (and more profitable) group of wonder drugs.
To be fair, this has a number of factors driving it. Americans are always willing to reach for a magic pill to solve everything, even if prudence would dictate simply grinning and bearing the condition, or leading a simple, decent healthy lifestyle of reasonable diet, exercise, not smoking and so forth. Our perverse health care system will happily pay hundreds of dollars a month, forever, for the latest wonder drug, rather than far more reasonable costs of, say, a health club membership, or reasonable dietary counseling. And of course, we are obsessed with quick relief for everything… probably caused by our industrial-assembly-line public education system and hair-trigger attention spans caused by television (and the crap that’s on it).
Well, the quick relief, it seems, presents far more problems than they solve, in many cases. As we obsess about this year’s budget destroying gimmick, the Medicare “prescription drug benefit”, perhaps we should consider whether this is “a benefit” at all to anyone… except pharmaceutical companies… at any level.
Anyway, since Americans clearly voted for a mandate against reality, there’s no point in worrying about any of this for at least the next four years or so.