Study accuses Merck of deception in promoting Vioxx

A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association accuses pharaceutical giant Merck of deception in promoting Vioxx. According to the researchers, who had access to thousands of documents gathered in lawsuits involving Vioxx, Merck “waged a campaign of deception to promote its drug, moving slowly to warn of possible hazards while at the same time dressing up in-house studies as the work of independent academic researchers.” Among the allegations are that Merck gave the Food and Drug Administration an incomplete accounting of deaths in a clinical trial involving Vioxx, and that studies ostensibly done by independent scientists were done by employees or contractors.

Two observations: First, this highlights the growing problem of “preemption,” in which drug makers avoid civil liability by hiding behind the FDA’s approval of drugs and devices. That is, if the federal government thinks something is safe enough to sell to the public, a slick trial lawyer and a jury of twelve yokels ought not find to the contrary and award a bunch of money to some poor sap who dies from using it. Preemption has been a darling of the Bush administration and has found sympathetic ears on the Supreme Court. The problem is, as this Vioxx study points out, the FDA is getting their information from the drug makers themselves. Bad idea.

Second, when individuals lie and kill people, we call that a felony and we punish them. When drug companies lie and kill people, their market share increases and their stock rises. How is that right?