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Vioxx Marketing Slammed in Congress

At first glance, yesterday's sudden departure of Merck CEO Raymond V. Gilmartin was a bit surprising to me, even with the mega-pharmaceutical's money troubles and struggles on the NYSE. Actually, I shouldn't have been all that thrown by it, and this must-read story in this morning's USA Today explains why. While Gilmartin was announcing his retirement, Merck officials were justifying all the tactics their company took to sell Vioxx, all the while misleading the public about its safety at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.

A quote from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) summed up the findings rather neatly: Health risks were viewed as "obstacles" the sales force was instructed to surmount. Here's how:

  • Five years ago, Merck developed a cardiovascular cue card used by salespeople to respond to physicians' questions that overemphasized any positives and ignored any negative studies whatsoever, including newer studies that addressed Vioxx's cardiac risks. I'm certain such ignorance probably lead to Vioxx and Celebrex being way overprescribed.
  • Sales reps sidestepped the "bad news" about Vioxx in their conversations with doctors by claiming they couldn't initiate conversations about them because such negative studies weren't included on the label.
  • Reps received a $2,000 minimum bonus for meeting their sales targets.

Wonder how those sales reps sleep at night, knowing they were selling a drug that's killed an estimated 55,000 Americans? But I digress...

I can't remind you often enough, nobody needs to take toxic drug to treat their pain, especially at the expense of their heart. That's why I urge you to review one of the more popular articles I've written for my Web site that outlines seven safer and healthier options.

USA Today May 6, 2005

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