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Drug Company Merck Drew Up Doctor "Hit List" 281

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 Vioxx was withdrawn from the market in 2004 because it causes heart attacks and strokes.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 gcnaddict ( 841664 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @02:27PM (#27714755)
    If you're a doctor, don't say anything about any drug. If you praise a drug, you'll look like a shill. If you slam a drug, you'll... well, probably get killed.

    Just stay out of it, even if it means you make $100,000 less every year. Getting involved is a lose/lose.
  • by UncleTogie ( 1004853 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @02:51PM (#27714967) Homepage Journal

    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.

    Spookily enough, this is how they sold the doctors on the meds to begin with.

    I worked as IT guy at a medical office for a number of years, and noticed that I'd never seen an ugly pharmaceutical rep. The reps sent to the doc's office were all pretty enough to drive most guys googoo, and I noticed even Doc was hanging on her every word. Later, I asked the office manager if that was common and actually WORKED. "Every time I'VE seen," she replied...

    Since then, I've always wondered how many drugs were prescribed solely because of hooters.

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @02:53PM (#27715001) Homepage
    Yep. Much of the doctor to doctor advertising is on the basis of "Dr. So and So at the University thinks this is a great drug". No facts, just opinion, and typically money under the table. Or even money up front and center.

    For years doctors seemed to be under the allusion that they were protected from advertising's nefarious psychological hooks because "we're smart". That nonsense is being completely and thoroughly debunked as these sorts of blantant maneuvering and lying on the behalf of Big Pharma become more apparent. More and more (although still a minority, unfortunately) of physicians don't let drug reps near them. And this sort of behavior is accelerating the trend.

    It will take another half generation or so of new docs to come up through the ranks with a very jaundiced view of drug company advertising. But it will happen. And the Big Pharma knows it. Which is why they are so keen to push direct to consumer advertising.

    Follow the money. Corporations always do.
  • by guyminuslife ( 1349809 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @02:53PM (#27715005)

    My mother was taking Vioxx regularly when the whole scandal broke. She immediately went to the pharmacist to get as much of the stuff as she could before it got taken off the market. The other drugs didn't really do it for her. Arthritis sucks, and as a dentist, it has a huge impact on your ability to do your job.

    Yeah, it might kill you, but on the other hand, it's about quality of life.

  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @02:57PM (#27715037) Homepage Journal
    Does anyone else besides me see the common practice of coming to a settlement with no admission that the corporation did anything wrong is a really, really bad thing. I don't know if the fact that this is tacked on to every major settlement has to do with the fact that these corporations are massive concentrations of power and money that the legal systems aren't designed to deal with or if it's just greedy plaintiffs or a combination of both. If we could get companies to actually admit guilt in some of these cases, would it head off crap like this anyways?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:07PM (#27715097)

    Yep, I too was on Vioxx.

    I was 21 years old and still had a 3 month supply when the cuffuffle broke. My Doc told me to continue on taking it until all I had was gone, then he would prescribe me something else.

  • by future assassin ( 639396 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:16PM (#27715157) Homepage

    My girlfriends family doctor is one of those doctors. She pushes anything that is pro pharma and has TONS of free samples for crazy amount of different drugs. When my girlfriend mentioned to her that I was looking to find a family doctor who was pro cannabis (Trying to get a license for my herniated disk) she got all up on my girlfriend how cannabis is bad and all that... but shes more then willing to give out some free pills for "beta' testing. Always wondered how much shes paid by the pharma companies.

    Another thing I don't understand is how anyone could take a pill that spends more then half of the tv commercial talking about how many side effects there are and that rare occasional deaths can occur. WTF?

  • by j. andrew rogers ( 774820 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:21PM (#27715207)

    Here is the conundrum:

    Pharmaceutical and other medical research companies in the US semi-routinely engage in questionable behavior, obviously a bad thing that is enabled by the existence of the Byzantine private healthcare market of the United States. Simultaneously, the vast majority of global medical research, 60-70%, is done in the US and is significantly enabled by the fact that you can recoup costs because the healthcare market is more competitive (albeit perversely) due to the semi-private nature of the market. It is one of the reasons many new medical treatments and diagnostics are available in the US first.

    So here is the problem: on one hand the US healthcare market is a byzantine mess where a lot of questionable practices can occur, but on the other hand this same mess also enables most of the world's medical innovation to occur. Much of the rest of the industrialized world is a free rider on the ugly mess that is US healthcare when it comes to innovation and R&D investment. It might be nice to adopt, say, European-style healthcare systems in theory, but can we afford it at the price of relative technological stagnation because all the profit motive has been removed from the development of that technology since the US is the last major market where a legitimate profit can be extracted?

    Profit motive is a double-edged sword, and in healthcare is no exception. But I think far too many people, particularly people used to socialized medicine, abhor the ugly side of such things while failing to recognize that they also benefit mightily from it. Even Americans benefit from it in some significant ways despite the unacceptably high costs, such as having the highest cancer survival rates in the world, markedly higher than many western industrialized countries. There needs to be a way to get the benefits without throwing out the innovation baby with the bathwater, which strictly socializing US medicine would do by all empirical evidence. The stark differences in the level of investment in medical advancements by various countries is hard to ignore, and I generally consider such investment to be a good thing.

  • by V50 ( 248015 ) * on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:23PM (#27715237) Journal

    Yep, my uncle was on Vioxx, and it was about the only thing that seemed to work for him. When the whole "Vioxx will kill you" thing broke, it was pretty devastating for him, not because he was concerned with having a heart attack or stroke, but because now the only thing that was working for him in dealing with his arthritis was unavailable.

    I don't think he outright said it, but I really got the impression that, given a choice, he'd gladly take the risks because his arthritis was so bad, and the Vioxx worked very well.

  • by bill_kress ( 99356 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @03:49PM (#27715497)

    People have a really bizarre inability to really accept things outside their experience.

    For children, when they start driving, they think they are unstoppable. The drive fast or drink and drive simply because they have not personally seen the consequences.

    After a while, you start seeing how much you can get hurt if you jump from a roof into a pool and you start thinking twice, but until then nothing can stop you.

    Instead of hiding smoking or pretending it was OK, my mom tried to quit repeatedly, complained about how pathetic and weak she was, how they controlled her and how she couldn't stop spending money on them. She stopped for a year once, but went back. I think I can remember at least 6 serious efforts to stop, but in the end it killed her.

    If you could really grok that before you picked up your first cigarette, you would be physically incapable of smoking it.

    We like to think that we make our own decisions and we do so with the information we have in a way that benefits us, but really we are manipulated easily. FOX news knows how to pull the strings of a type of person to manipulate their feelings, chemical addictions can completely and deeply change how you feel about many things, etc.

    The point is, these people say it's a quality of life issue simply because they aren't able to comprehend the fact that they could die tomorrow.

    If someone were able to actually say with certainty that "if you keep taking that pill, you will die in 2 weeks, otherwise you will live for 15 years", they would stop. From there it's just a matter of odds.

    Hell, what if they said "If you keep taking that pill, you will die in 10 years, otherwise you will die in 15"? Well, right now some might actually say "I'll keep taking it", speaking for that person in 9 3/4 years who may answer VERY differently-- again a human inability to logically analyze the situation and come to an honest conclusion.

  • All Ex Cheerleaders (Score:5, Interesting)

    by copponex ( 13876 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @04:01PM (#27715623) Homepage

    A friend of mine was a rep for a larger company. She was an ex college cheerleader and they picked her up straight out of college, and with bonuses, she was making close to 80k in her second year. This didn't include all the expenses her company paid for - car, housing, gas, expense accounts for taking clients to dinner. And according to her, she was not unique in her history as a cheerleader, or her pay grade.

    I saw the analytical software she had to gauge her performance against others in her region. It was mind-boggling how much data she had, how many prescriptions had been written by which doctor, doctors who hadn't purchased her brands yet, growth rates... and that seemed to be just the tip of the iceberg. But nowhere, nowhere did it tell her if patients had recovered or not, or if any of them had passed away. If they were dead, it was just the loss of one prescription.

    She always talked about competing for growth rates, and the bonuses that it included. Basically, doctors who sold a lot of drugs were invited to gatherings in the Caribbean, expenses paid of course, where all of the top sales reps would also be enjoying the conference as well.

    The whole thing was really sickening. I talked to one doctor that said he felt pressured to prescribe pills, not necessarily by the drug companies, but by his patients. They come in, malnourished, overweight, smoking, and not getting any exercise, and ask for help with their cholesterol. What he should tell them is that they need to stop smoking, prescribe an hour of exercise a day, and a new diet. Instead, he writes them a script, is one step closer to getting a free vacation, and his patients get to continue abusing themselves guilt free.

    This is one of the many reasons we need to move to a system where the incentive is to keep people healthy instead of keeping them sick. As the baby boomers continue to age, this dogmatic adherence to the "free market" could quite possibly bankrupt us.

  • by tsa ( 15680 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @04:31PM (#27715837) Homepage

    My brother's GF was a representative for a pharma company for a few years. She is quite good-looking, which helps in achieving your targets of course. She always had a trunk full of expensive gifts like coffee machines and other stuff to give to doctors to promote medicines. When I told her that in normal Dutch this is called bribery she was mad at me and told her the doctors actually have to do a lot to get those things. They have to give the company data on how the patients react to the drugs, something that the secretary can get out of her computer with a few keystrokes. Hard work indeed, for the doctor. Those doctors were also often invited to a tropical paradise to see presentations about new medicines. Of course they didn't have to pay for those trips.

  • by moxley ( 895517 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @04:36PM (#27715875)

    This sort of thing reminds me of the way the company in "Michael Clayton" behaves, (great film BTW).

    I wiah that sort of thing was a fantasy and that it could be said that such things are exaggerations and never happen - but when it come to millions or billions of dollars at stake these multinational companies are sometimes willing to do extremely unethical things, including murder - we certainly have seen cases of attempts to cover up negligence where numerous people have been killed as a result of faulty products.

    Even if Merck didn't actually have anybody killed here, and even if they claim that isn't what they meant by "neutralize," - destroying someone's life and credibility because they are trying to tell the world the truth about what their research has shown is just about as bad.

    As corporations and governments are becoming more intertwined I expect we'll see more of this.

    It seems like sociopaths tend to make it far in corporate society - something about being able to do what it takes to rise to that level in the cutthroat world of business seems to fit the the sociopathic personality.

    Any company that gets caught doing this sort of thing, even if it's found out after the fact should be destroyed - it's assets should be divided properly among shareholders and employees who are clean of any taint from such a scandal....

  • by bendodge ( 998616 ) <{bendodge} {at} {}> on Saturday April 25, 2009 @05:08PM (#27716049) Homepage Journal

    Uh, it's not a free market. It's run by insurance and pharmaceutical companies. People have a remarkable way of managing their money better than other people's. 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.

    See hospitals in India, Singapore, and Thailand staffed by American doctors that actually compete for patients from around the world. They're booming because they're mostly free of bureaucracy and are very open about their mortality, infection, and error rates. That's how healthcare should work.

  • Well, there are things that you can't ingest as fast as you would need for it to kill you.

    I guess, even though your comment is anecdotal, that it's somewhat similar to Stevia. A sweetener made from a plant. It's used by American natives for thousands of years.
    To get to the point: Monsanto, makers of the cancerous Aspartame (who else? ^^), ordered a study. The result was, that you could become sterile from it. (Stay with me.)
    What they did not really put their emphasis on, was that the amount you had to eat, for it to be any dangerous, would be half of your body weight. Every single day.
    Try that with salt. ^^ Or even with water! (Yes. Too much water can kill you too. Same as not enough of it.)
    Or, well, pot. :)

    You know where I'm going with this...

  • by dov_0 ( 1438253 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @06:44PM (#27716755)

    Ever heard of anyone dying from an overdose of pot? Falling asleep, eating until bloated, thirsty enough to drink the pacific ocean dry, yes. Dying... never! :-)

    Dying, no. Long term problems with short-term memory and concentration, yes. Loss of initiative and drive, yes. Psychosis, family break-down, incarceration in a psychiatric facility, panic disorder, depression, suicide attempts, broken relationships, unemployment. Yes. Actually that pretty well sums up the largish circle of people I used to smoke marijuana with and as far as I can tell, they were all pretty average, normal people before they started on dope. Ten years after I quit I still have serious problems with my memory.

    Many people like to say that Marijuana is harmless and not like other drugs as it is natural. Well, Arsenic and Cyanide are natural as well. It seems that the main problem with Marijuana is that THC, the main drug in Gunja isn't water soluble like most drugs that wash out of the system. It's soluble in fats and oils, so it hangs around in fat cells in the body for many years to come. Your brain is 30% fatty tissue...

  • by Ceiynt ( 993620 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @06:52PM (#27716819)
    I fired my old family doctor of about 10 years because I started to see he was nothing but a shill for the drug compaines. He'd spend less then 5 minutes in the room with you, give you a hand full of samples of the latest, greatest whatever. I brought in a list of drugs that Wal-Mart sells for $4 and a list of what my insurence covers, none of his samples were on the list, so he wouldn't prescribe those. Lo and behold, the samples are the ones that are still patent protected, and cost $500 for a weeks worth.
    One of the doctors left the practice because she didn't like his style of medicine. I now go to her practice, which she runs with her husband. She has signs in the exam rooms and the lobby that state "Please do not ask for drug samples, as we do not accept them from the pharmicutical companies. Samples increase the price for everyone and are not free. The doctor will discuss with you the right medicine for the right problem, and will try to prescribe generics if at all possible."
    I like it now that my family doctor really does practice medicine instead of playing the corporate shill and handing out the flavor of the month.
  • by kilodelta ( 843627 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @09:05PM (#27717581) Homepage
    There are tons of drugs out there where pharma has suppressed negative research. Recall if you will the drug phenylpropanolamine aka Dimettap. Worked great on me, but I'm male. It had a nasty habit of killing women who were in that age bracket where they were most fecund. How many years did it take for that drug to get yanked off the market?
  • by bitt3n ( 941736 ) on Saturday April 25, 2009 @09:43PM (#27717791)

    Another thing I don't understand is how anyone could take a pill that spends more then half of the tv commercial talking about how many side effects there are and that rare occasional deaths can occur. WTF?

    Sleeper Effect []

Were there fewer fools, knaves would starve. - Anonymous