Hey, America! Want your drug fix? Then stop suing your suppliers. If you don’t, then it’s only a matter of time before that gravy train derails.
Modern-day America is rife with functional junkies. They watch that guy in the Viagra ads flying out the door in the morning, smiling and waving like a mental patient, jumping fences like he’s hopped up on crack, and say to themselves, “My morning sucks. I want some of whatever that guy’s on.”
Somewhere along the line, normal human function and the ups and downs of life became unacceptable. Now there’s a pill for everything. It used to be that waking up in the morning and barely having the energy to function meant that either you had to smarten up and eat better, or discipline yourself not to stay up all night drinking or playing video games. But now, a pill will take care of that for you.
Stuffing yourself like a Thanksgiving turkey at lunchtime and landing a bad case of indigestion used to be nature's way of warning you about self-abuse. Now there’s a pill, so who cares? Gorge away.
Gained a few pounds, and looking for a quick-fix solution that doesn’t involve any effort? Just pop a pill.Feeling sad, upset, or stressed? Difficult life events used to be character-building, but today, there is a plethora of prescription drugs that will solve the problem by putting you on the same psychological plane as Timothy Leary.
A side-effect of these drugs is frequent ‘not tonight, dear’ evenings, but there’s a pill to deal with that, too. We’re a pill popping society, and we usually do it without thinking for ourselves or taking any sort of responsibility for the foreign substances we put into our bodies. We “ask our doctor”, he gives us something, we put it in our mouths, just like a two year old does with dirt.
Every one of these drugs has contraindications, but junkies in need of a quick-fix rarely read the fine print. Case in point: the recent Vioxx class-action lawsuit against American drug giant, Merck and Co. The drug was advertised to be useful in treating the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis, acute pain, and painful menstruation. Personally, my menstrual cramps would have to be pretty bad before I turned to a drug whose product information insert read as follows:
"Serious but rare and potentially life-threatening side effects that have been reported in patients taking VIOXX include: Serious stomach problems, such as stomach and intestinal bleeding, can happen with or without warning symptoms. These problems, if serious, could lead to hospitalization or death... Serious allergic reactions include the symptoms and signs of swelling of the face, lips, tongue; trouble breathing such as chest tightness or shortness of breath; trouble swallowing; hives; wheezing; or shock (loss of blood pressure and consciousness)... Heart attacks and other serious cardiovascular events, such as blood clots in your body have been reported in patients taking VIOXX."
The warning was there. It ought not to be the manufacturer's problem that some people never read up on the side-effects, figured that any warnings couldn't ever apply to them, decided that the benefits of the drug would outweigh the risks, or didn’t ask their doctor the right questions. But as the New York Times reports this week, “Merck announced that it was pulling the drug off the market because a long-term clinical trial showed that some patients, after taking the drug for 18 months, developed serious cardiovascular problems. The data that ultimately persuaded the company to withdraw the drug indicated 15 cases of heart attack, stroke or blood clots per thousand people each year over three years, compared with 7.5 such events per thousand patients taking a placebo.”
A few more people in a rat lab somewhere end up coming down with the same problematic symptoms that the manufacturer had duly warned about in the first place, and now Merck is facing hundreds of individual Vioxx related lawsuits, and class-actions. As a result, Merck’s stock has plummeted by nearly 50 percent, and it's faced with having to pay out billions of dollars in legal bills and judgments. While individual lawsuits usually fall within the policy limits for liability insurance, class-actions suits, with high damage awards, do not.
While the public debate rages on over drug companies like Merck and their direct connections to Satan, Hitler, or George W. Bush, people can’t figure out why they have to go to Canada to get flu shots. Merck is also the manufacturer of one of the most useful flu season vaccinations: Pneumovax. The vaccine business is not a lucrative one. Just ask Dean Linden of ID Biomedical in Vancouver, BC--the sole Canadian-based manufacturer of flu vaccine in Canada. According to Linden, “companies have decided to leave the business rather than re-invest in their equipment and in their facilities. You can have a better business investing in your pipeline drugs.”
Linden says his company is being visited by FDA inspectors this week so they can scope out a potential 1.2 million dose shipment to the USA. So why can’t American companies supply enough flu shots? Basically, companies like Merck aren’t getting rich by providing you with vaccines. It’s more of a public service than anything else. If they’re paying out billions of dollars to idiots who couldn’t be bothered to read a product label and take responsibility for what they put into their own bodies, then they’re going to have a lot less money to invest in vaccines, let alone research and development that can lead to safer and more effective drugs.
The current climate of litigation isn't doing much to encourage companies to get into the flu vaccine business. As Sherman Joyce, President of the American Tort Reform Association, points out: "A vaccine manufacturer can be held liable for millions of dollars, even though its product had nothing to do with the plaintiff's actual injury." It hardly makes the venture worth it. As a result, everyone suffers.
This whole issue reminds me of an incident in my Canadian hometown whereby a man sitting in the front row at a strip club was kicked in the head by a “reckless” exotic dancer, and sued both the club and the woman for damages. The reality is that no matter how many signs the club would have erected to warn of possible front row exposure to flying limbs and various other body parts, there will always be drooling, gap-toothed perverts for whom the benefits outweigh the risks.
The exact same thing holds true for people who take drugs. There will always be bodybuilders who use steroids; women who take ephedra to lose weight even though it regularly sends them to the emergency ward with their heart jumping out of their chest; and people who smoke cigarettes, despite the countless warnings, and the fact that it says right on the product, “This WILL kill you. Probably even today. Free ‘last will and testament’ template on back of carton.”
How about only taking a drug when you really need it--and not just because “gee, that little white cartoon pill on the TV commercial looks like it’s having so much fun bouncing around and being hugged by cartoon flowers and birdies. Awww, I want a hug from a birdie, too!” Putting foreign objects in your mouth always has consequences. Learn about them and assess the risks. It’s not the fault of Merck or other drug companies that people are all too willing to perform the adult equivalent of eating Play-Doh. Your mother never sued the Hasbro toy company for that, back in the day, did she?