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Drug Company Merck Drew Up Doctor "Hit List" 281

Posted by kdawson
from the i'll-have-your-job-young-man dept.
Philip K Dickhead sends in a piece from the Australian media, a couple of weeks old, that hasn't seen much discussion here. In a class-action lawsuit in Australia against Merck for its Vioxx anti-arthritis drug, information has come out that the company developed a "hit list" of doctors who had expressed anything but enthusiasm for the drug. Vioxx was withdrawn from the market in 2004 because it causes heart attacks and strokes. Merck settled a class action in the US for $4.85 billion but did not admit guilt. "An international drug company made a hit list of doctors who had to be 'neutralized' or discredited because they criticized the anti-arthritis drug the pharmaceutical giant produced. Staff at US company Merck & Co. emailed each other about the list of doctors — mainly researchers and academics — who had been negative about the drug Vioxx or Merck and a recommended course of action. The email, which came out in the Federal Court in Melbourne yesterday as part of a class action against the drug company, included the words 'neutralize,' 'neutralized,' or 'discredit' against some of the doctors' names. It is also alleged the company used intimidation tactics against critical researchers, including dropping hints it would stop funding to institutions and claims it interfered with academic appointments. 'We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live,' a Merck employee wrote, according to an email excerpt read to the court by Julian Burnside QC, acting for the plaintiff."
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Drug Company Merck Drew Up Doctor "Hit List"

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 25, 2009 @02:26PM (#27714747)

    We've all seen the classic beer commercial. Some guy is bored and alone. Then he cracks open a beer and suddenly this amazing party materializes out of nowhere and bunch of adoring super-models surround the guy like he's the hottest guy on the planet.

    Most of us recognize that this is a marketing fantasy. Sure, beer is often served at parties and there are often some attractive women at parties but the actual events depicted in such commercials are solidly in the realm of fantasy. More fundamentally, most of us recognize that the reason we are being shown the beer commercial is not because the beer company is devoted to improving our lives but instead because the CEO wants to increase profits so he can get his incentive bonus so he can buy his third mistress that second luxury vacation home she's been asking for. The CEO probably does see himself as a decent guy but, when you strip away the pretense, he's certainly not doing what he does out of pure altruism.

    We've also all seen the classical antidepressant commercial. Some guy "hurts everywhere" and "everyone". Then he pops a couple cute little pills and "everywhere" and "everyone" magically stops hurting - whatever problems he may have had with his health or his career or his relationships or his dog are magically cured by those cute little pills.

    Do most of us recognize that this is a marketing fantasy? Probably not. Sure, antidepressants are prescribed to people with depression and people do recover from depression. But the idea that a couple pills will solve every single problem you have in your life is solidly in the realm of fantasy. More fundamentally, the reason we are shown the antidepressant commercial is not because the pharmaceutical company is devoted to improving our lives but instead because the CEO wants to increase profits so he can get his incentive bonus so he can buy his third mistress that second luxury vacation home she's been asking for. The CEO probably does see himself as a decent guy but, when you strip away the pretense, he's certainly not doing what he does out of pure altruism.

    So, getting back to the topic in this Slashdot article, people should look at such articles and wake up to the fact that pharmaceutical companies are not motivated by altruism - and that, furthermore, pharmaceutical will make whatever claims about their drugs that they think they can legally get away with. When a pharmaceutical company makes a "scientific" claim about one of their drugs, you can be sure that the claim has the bare minimum of actual scientific basis allowed by law.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @02:26PM (#27714749) Homepage

    We see this over and over again. We saw it in HP where leadership was so arrogant that it thought it should be able to do the things it did overstepping boundaries. Critics must be silenced. This isn't about competition in the sense of making better, safer, more effective things. This is about competition of life versus death quite literally. They see the world as an opponent that must be controlled, misdirected or otherwise "neutralized." In short, they are sociopathic and should be legally marked and deemed as such.

  • by TheFlannelAvenger (870106) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @02:29PM (#27714785)
    I hope I never get sick, or if I do, that I die quick. Health Care in the USA is the disease.
  • by oldhack (1037484) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @02:38PM (#27714869)
    Publishing papers, commenting on them, are these too "outwardly"?
  • I hope ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PPH (736903) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @02:42PM (#27714907)

    ... that Australian law allows them to ream Merck out for this kind of behavior. Specifically, attacking another's professional reputation. In some places (States in the USA) its considered a violation of the professional code of ethics that can cause one to lose a license to practise certain professions (engineering, for example). But in the US, its rare to see any penalties imposed. Only in cases where actual financial damages can be proven (in spite of the fact that licensing laws impose no such requirement).

    As medical professionals rely heavily on reputation for their livelihood, it would be nice to see this taken seriously. Interesting note: The only group that seems to be successful in having such regulations enforced in the US are lawyers (as in having web sites that rate lawyers taken down).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 25, 2009 @02:45PM (#27714917)

    www.google.com/#q=corporate+personhood

    www.reclaimdemocracy.org/personhood/

    We believe that corporations are not persons and possess only the privileges we willfully grant them. Granting corporations the status of legal "persons" effectively rewrites the Constitution to serve corporate interests as though they were human interests. Ultimately, the doctrine of granting constitutional rights to corporations gives a thing illegitimate privilege and power that undermines our freedom and authority as citizens. While corporations are setting the agenda on issues in our Congress and courts, We the People are not; for we can never speak as loudly with our own voices as corporations can with the unlimited amplification of money.

  • Re:How hard is PR? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:05PM (#27715079) Homepage Journal

    "our profits are driving R&D for the next generation of drugs."

    They DO say that. They routinely say that when criticized about their astronomical profit margins. Problem is, it's a lie. R&D is an expense. Since when do you pay your corporate expenses out of your profits? Profits are counted AFTER expenses. Essentially they're trying to get their expenses counted twice.

  • by RichardJenkins (1362463) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:06PM (#27715087)

    We've also all seen the classical antidepressant commercial. Some guy "hurts everywhere" and "everyone". Then he pops a couple cute little pills and "everywhere" and "everyone" magically stops hurting - whatever problems he may have had with his health or his career or his relationships or his dog are magically cured by those cute little pills.

    What? You guys really get ads like that in the States? I can't remember ever seeing an ad for prescription drugs - the very notion of advertising anti-depressants directly to consumers (particularly over the boob tube) is insane!

  • Re:Oh boy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BitZtream (692029) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:10PM (#27715113)

    I'm all for science and technology, but there is something to be said about putting too much faith in new drugs and treatments.

    I'm extremely skeptical of the HPV vaccine (GARDASIL) and completely against this retarded idea of inoculating every girl at the age of 13.

    If you know anything about their 'trials' for ensuring its safe you would be too.

    We simply do not know enough about the long term effects of these things to go around giving it to people without reason. With stupid states attempting to make it legislation to do so it scares the piss out of me.

    If we're talking about a drug that may save the life of someone with a known health issue, thats one thing, but giving people drugs for minor problems or giving people drugs for problems they don't yet have and can be avoided in other ways is just stupid until we have real world data NOT PROVIDED BY SOMEONE WITH A VESTED INTEREST IN THE SALE OF THE DRUG.

    If a person has cancer and a month to live and we have a treatment that will let them live another year but don't know the side effects I'm all for it.

    If a person hasn't got a health issue but live in an environment that they are sure to end up with a major health issue that makes their life expectancy extremely short, and we have a drug that will extend that life expectancy but may have effects after that, I'll consider it.

    If a person hasn't got a health issue, isn't really likely to end up with a health issue, and we really have no idea what the drug to prevent a health issue will do to them in 10 years or more, then you can fuck off if you want to inject me or mine with it until we have more data. You can give it to yours all you want, and if you happen to end up sterile then nature has done its job. Me and mine will feel sympathy for you, but we won't lose any sleep at night as yours die out.

    As I said, I love technology and the advances we've made, but I also know enough about the history of medicine to know that a lot of shit we've come up with isn't nearly as great as we once thought it was.

    A treatment for Malaria in mosqutoe infested jungles that has some side effects is good.

    Drinking irradiated water because it gives you 'energy and is refreshing' is insanely stupid.

    We've done both you know, and knew little of their side effects until well after they were in heavy use.

  • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:14PM (#27715139) Homepage Journal

    Most people living today don't know the basic fact that corporations are "legal fictions" that require the government to exist. Corporations to many these days are some magical category that somehow exist on their own, and until we have a corporate rule type situation that the cyberpunk authors like to write about then we corporations really do require a government to issue them a charter.

    I don't know if we have laws that make it hard to revoke a corporate charter, but if we do legislators can write laws to change that (good luck as corporate lobbyists have so much influence). Revoking a corporation's charter is the death penalty as applied to corporations and it has been an option that has been forgotten about. However, if you believe that certain persons are such a menace that capitol punishment is called for, how could you throw the same option away when it comes to corporations that are a menace to society or show themselves unable to follow the common law?

    We ought to start thinking as a country about revocation of corporate charters.

  • by ColePEET (861091) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:21PM (#27715209)
    Does Vioxx cause death? Maybe. If the specific formulation of the drug is to blame then why are other drugs with virtually the same formulation still on the market with warnings? Why didn't those drugs also get removed from the market - with similar numbers of deaths behind them as well? Maybe? Virtually? The difference of ONE FUCKING MOLECULE is the difference between medicine and poison. So basically you are saying people clinging on to life with the tenacity that almost all humans display is the real cause of all the evils in the world. Man, I don't even know what to write, my mind recoils at the twistedness of this post. "It's a lottery and there are winners and losers. Merck lost. Too bad, I guess." Heres the problem right here, not old people. Its a lottery, every now and then the capitalist system needs someone to throw to the masses. Appease the plebs. Distract them from the fact that every company is 100% corrupt, by "catching" one of them every so often.
  • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:22PM (#27715225) Homepage Journal

    Also, basic reading into corporate personhood reveal that SCOTUS never even directly ruled on this idea. It's been accepted as fact ever since a clerk wrote a footnote into a ruling that said "The supreme court sees corporations as persons" or the like.

    Someday, hopefully someone with a bankbook can work on challenging this and ACTUALLY getting it to the supreme court... when that court isn't full of corporate shills like Alito. I'm sure this "Strict Consitutionalist" won't remember that consitution writers didn't trust corporations (because of their dealings with the East India company) and were opposed of handing out corporate charters that didn't expire after a given period of time.

  • by ColePEET (861091) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:29PM (#27715297)
    What about that? Who would have that authority at Merck? The CEO? The hit-list didn't just appear, it was a plan put into action. Who put it into action? Some one made a decision. The world needs to track down and execute the people who make these decisions.
  • by Tweenk (1274968) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:30PM (#27715315)

    Until we start denying care to everyone over, say 50 years of age, the US will not be moving to any sort of "universal single-payer health care."

    Yeah, let's ignore human rights, the meaning humanity, and revert to what amounts to barbarism... This proposition reads like something taken straight from a dystopian novel. I'm not defending the fight for a few more months of life no matter the cost, but your idea is way overboard.

  • Re:Oh boy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kokuyo (549451) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:32PM (#27715321) Journal

    Oversimplifying much? Today's medicine is way cool. One just has to make a difference between scientific medicine and corporate driven business.

  • Re:How hard is PR? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BitZtream (692029) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:37PM (#27715369)

    Its easy if they are, more often than not their profits drive salaries of executives.

    Universities are often the ones driving research and innovation, which promptly gets patented by companies like Merck and Glaxo.

    Its funny, I pay taxes so things can be researched, and then I lose the right to control the items I paid to research.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:37PM (#27715371)

    The sad thing is that Vioxx isn't that dangerous. The problem is that Merck's behavior is very dangerous.

    If the company hadn't decided to lie about it and fight tooth and nail to and discredit everyone, it could easily be on the market today. Just not to really old people, smokers, or other people with high risk factors for heart attacks. And the doctor would hopefully let you know that the pain in your chest might not be heartburn, increasing the probability you'd realize you're having a heart attack and call 911 before you keel over.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 25, 2009 @04:18PM (#27715727)

    "In short, they are sociopathic and should be legally marked and deemed as such."

    That is true, however it overlooks a major reason why nothing is done about this kind of behavior. Ironically as business is such a competitive environment, sociopathic behavior provides a competitive advantage, so they naturally out compete their opponents and so fight their way to the top. Thats why we see this behavior at the top in business. But more importantly, this same behavior also applies equally to politics and they also write the laws.

    The minority of people who seek political power over others (ultimately for their own gain) are the same kind of personality as the people who get to the top in business. That is why they don't see such behavior as wrong and as they fight to the top, the most sociopathic will resist and manipulate to prevent others less extreme in their party from bring in new controls to prevent such unfair behavior. As both business and politics are such competitive environments not all people in business and politics are this extreme, but the most extreme people do fight their way to the top. That is also why business and politics are so closely linked at the top. Money and Power.

    A simple way to think about sociopathic behavior is that its an extreme form of Narcissistic behavior. They are totally self centered at the expense (often literally) of their opponents and/or victims.

    This behavior is also repeated throughout history. For example, the emperors of Ancient Rome. Also the Nazis (especially Hitler and Himmler). In fact many leaders throughout history. We even see this behavior in some of what J. Edgar Hoover did. They all maneuver to seek to undermine their opponents often over years. This is also the goal of a whole area of politics called Opposition Research. Big Business also uses Opposition Research tactics.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_research [wikipedia.org]

    Even when they cannot find information to use to undermine their opponents, then they will simply resort to lies and misinformation. A recent example of this was shown up in England (but these tactics are used in every country).
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8002085.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    This minority in every society who seek money and power are ruthlessly determined to seek any way they can to undermine their most powerful opponents, at whatever level of money and power they are currently at and they always have competitors at their level of money and power. Everyone below them are powerless and so meaningless people to them and often easily exploitable. Its why so often the ones at the top have such little empathy to the ones below them. They are focused on seeking ever more money and power, so their focus is on the ones at their level and above as they seek to work with or against others with money and power, so that they can gain more money and power. These people really are incredibly ruthless people. Thankfully most people do not think like this, but unfortunately that also prevents most people fully understanding just how incredibly ruthless this minority of people are ultimately for their own gain.

  • by MrMarket (983874) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @04:28PM (#27715803) Journal

    Obviously we need more gay doctors.

    Why? To create more jobs for more gay PhRMA reps?

  • The US, and until recently, NZ, were the only countries in the world where you are allowed to advertise a prescription medication. It, of course, leads to the absurdity of "Ask your doctor about {drug}" style ads, not "Discuss with your doctor the symptoms of your ailment", of course not. So people go into their doctors, "So I saw this ad, and I matched a couple of the things they mentioned, "feeling tired, run down"... "so can you write me a script for {drug}".

    Mind blowing. Unbridled capitalism at its finest.

  • by DirtyCanuck (1529753) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @05:01PM (#27716013)

    Unless you are of course, watching an American channel being broadcast in Canada. Which makes up a large portion of stations we have available.

    Signs you are watching American Channel:

    1. Drug propaganda public service announcements.
    2. Anti Abortion commercials
    3. Pharmaceutical commercials, with death as a side effect (laugh every time).
    4. Some sort of community college commercial with some overly average guy yelling at you to go to school.
    5. Really, really bad local commercials (Halloween Costume Warehouse).
    6. Really dark and even disturbing commercials that turn out to be some politician bashing another (often not realizing until end of commercial)
    7. Do you have BAD CREDIT, well we have got a number for you....
    8. Fast Food
    9. Walmart

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @05:38PM (#27716269)

    We've also all seen the classical antidepressant commercial. Some guy "hurts everywhere" and "everyone". Then he pops a couple cute little pills and "everywhere" and "everyone" magically stops hurting - whatever problems he may have had with his health or his career or his relationships or his dog are magically cured by those cute little pills.

    Never felt more betrayed than by the cold and flu ads. They show someone miserable at night but he pops the meds and the next morning he doesn't even look like he's been sick! I know damn well the super model beer commercial fantasy is more likely to happen than that!

    I remember puking my guts out in the early morning and feeling shocked that the pharmaceutical companies would lie to us so brazenly in the commercials. Then I realized just how sick I must be to find this surprising.

  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @05:49PM (#27716357)

    'We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live,' a Merck employee wrote.

    He must have been a Scientologist because that sounds almost exactly like what CoS directs and encourages its members to do when faced with external criticism ala their "fair game" policies (which they claim to have repealed, but in practice still regularly employ to aggrivate, defame, and harass their critics). The Corporation [wikipedia.org] was right, this is the behavior of a psychopath.

  • by thatskinnyguy (1129515) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @09:10PM (#27717587)

    With all of the marketing for drugs out there, I'm starting to feel left out that I don't take any.

    Also, I'm wondering if all of the marketing for drugs is really necessary. I mean, if a drug does it's job particularly well, it will be prescribed by physicians and people will pay for it. It falls into a different category than the beer commercial right after it - I can go out and readily buy beer on a whim and it's totally legal. If I wanted to do the same thing with prescription drugs, it would be more costly and time-consuming to do it all above board and legally.

    Does the public really need to be conscious of the existence of certain prescription drugs? Probably not.

  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Saturday April 25, 2009 @09:32PM (#27717723) Homepage

    If people were paying their own money for drugs instead of an employer's insurance or tax-funded nets, they'd make a remarkably larger effort to stay healthy and spend less on treatments.

    While some aspects of industrial disease are caused by overindulgence in luxury, it doesn't follow that healthy living is always cheaper than unhealthy living. You will not be able to pressure the poor into living healthier by making them pay for their own healthcare. All you would do is kill them.

  • by ChrisMaple (607946) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @10:38PM (#27718029)
    Railing about the legal properties of corporations is attacking a straw man. The problem is that illegal activities caused by an individual in a large organization can be deflected from both the organization and the guilty individual. It is this defect in the law and the judges who misunderstand the law that need to be fixed, not the shorthand that in some respects a corporation is like a person.
  • by The End Of Days (1243248) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @11:24PM (#27718241)

    Why should you tell me I can't gamble with it? Why should your opinion have more influence over my life than my own?

  • Tis a nice double standard, when you look at it. "It's a global market" scream the corporations, "if we can get labor cheaper in Mexico/China/Eastern Europe, we should be able to!". "It's a global market," scream the people, "if we can get our pharmaceuticals cheaper in Canada, the UK, Mexico, we should be able to!". "No, you shouldn't. And we'll lobby to make it illegal, under the guise of quality control, even if you are buying the exact same drug."
  • Insane for whom? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xant (99438) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @01:26AM (#27718871) Homepage

    It's certainly not insane for the drug companies. You can put pressure directly on your doctor to get the drug that the teevee says will cure you. If he's ethical and doesn't comply (when the treatment isn't appropriate), well, there's plenty of other doctors. They'll comply out of apathy, or because it has a direct payoff in perks from drug companies.

    It's a totally rational strategy for drug companies.

  • by vaporland (713337) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @01:28AM (#27718887) Homepage
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Clara_County_v._Southern_Pacific_Railroad [wikipedia.org] this is the decision that started the whole mess...

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