Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Ads for Wonder Drugs


There's a photograph of Dorothy Hamill, right in the middle of my magazine, smiling a pain-free smile and lacing her skates. A free Dorothy Hamill. Free, as the ad explains, from the pain of osteoarthritis and all due to the wonders of VIOXX ®.

Having had an ache or pain myself from time to time, I read further.

VIOXX ® is here, the ad explains, to offer 24 hour relief from the most common type of arthritis pain and Dorothy Hamill is flogging it, lighting the empty stadium seats behind her with that great smile. "It isn't about going for a medal. Or feeling like a kid again. It's about controlling the pain that can keep you from doing everyday things."

Wow. Gotta be good stuff.

ONE PILL---ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT RELIEF.

VIOXX® EFFECTIVELY REDUCED PAIN AND STIFFNESS.

That's the cover page, the good news, so to speak.

Flipping the page, the backside of the ad, all small-print and no Dorothy Hamill, sets out a rather full menu of what the maker calls "patient information." Informative doesn't half say it. The first half of the small-print page is a detailed warning of who shouldn't take the product and what to tell your doctor prior to prescription.

Fair enough.

It seems that VIOXX®, in addition to giving one-pill all day and all night relief, may also provide (at no additional charge), the following:

Commonly reported side effects:

* Upper respiratory infection

* Diarrhea

* Nausea

* High blood pressure

Possible additional effects;

* Stomach and intestinal bleeding, with or without warning, could lead to hospitalization or death.

* Allergic reaction, including swelling of the face, lips, tongue and/or throat.

* Serious kidney problems occur rarely, including acute kidney failure.

* Severe liver problems, including hepatitis, jaundice and liver failure, occur rarely.

More common, but less serious side effects;

* Upper and/or lower respiratory infection.

* Headache.

* Dizziness.

* Diarrhea.

* Nausea and/or vomiting.

* Heartburn, stomach pain and upset.

* Swelling of the legs and/or feet.

* High blood pressure.

* Back pain.

* Tiredness

* Urinary tract infection.

The fine print goes on to say, "The side effects described above do not include all of the side effects reported with VIOXX®. Do not rely on this leaflet alone for information about side effects. Your doctor or pharmacist can discuss with you a more complete list of side effects."

A more complete list? My goodness. Just one pill a day.

It used to be these sorts of remedies were marketed directly to doctors and your doctor made the decision about appropriate use. But that was when you had a doctor. Nowadays it's likely you don't.

So the drug companies are opting to market directly, no doubt concerned that mere doctors are too busy these days filling out forms. The idea, apparently, is to have as many achy citizens as possible trooping into their doctors' office, shaking Dorothy Hamill in their face.

Diagnosis in the hands of the ill.

A single pill a day guaranteeing relief.

Responsibility for side effects shoved off on the doctors, presumably along with any nasty and inconvenient lawsuits.

It's proven to be no giant step from Dorothy Hamill's smiling ad to Prozac®-through-the-mail, unasked for.

Is this a wonderful country, or what?

Are we the most gullible (and demanding) citizenry, or what? Are the drug companies willing to gamble with our death and diarrhea, or what? Flogging new drugs along with their stock prices has really become a pain and, unfortunately, there's no pill a day for that.