Plants have long been used to heal the sick and cure pain. This was not done without side effects, however. Even cocaine was once hailed as a miracle painkiller before the detriment of the drug was discovered. The makers of Vioxx, Fen-Phen and Thalidomide are only a handful of companies whose “miracle drugs” were pulled from production after the discovery of horrifying side effects.
In 1999, the FDA approved Vioxx for the treatment of arthritis and adult pain. It was an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen and aspirin, without the gastrointestinal side effects of these drugs. In 2004 Merck recalled Vioxx due to the discovery of an increased risk of heart attack and stroke in those who have used to the drug for 18 months or longer. After the drug was voluntarily recalled, evidence that Merck’s VIGOR study showed a significant increase in heart attacks began to surface. It is now known that those who used Vioxx were 4-5 times more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack than those using other naproxens.
Today there is evidence that Merck was well aware of the side effects when they began marketing Vioxx. Instead of pulling their product, however, they tried their hardest to cast Vioxx in a positive light by hiring Dr. Peter Holt to promote their product to doctors. It is now estimated that Vioxx is responsible for 2,500 deaths in the six years it was prescribed in high doses. It also known that Vioxx users were 90% more likely to suffer gastrointestinal side effects than those taking a placebo, negating any benefits that were once seen in Vioxx.
Very few drugs can compete with the overwhelming success and failure of Fen-Phen. In 1992 word of the miracle weight loss drug began to spread like wildfire. Doctors prescribed it to everyone to walk through their door, and dispensaries popped up almost overnight. The appetite suppressant-amphetamine combination seemed to be the perfect solution to the American obesity epidemic while padding doctors’ wallets.
Of course, the frenzy had to come to an end and the Fen-Phen craze met its match. In 1997 doctors began reporting that about 30% of their patients were suffering from damaged heart valves after extended use of the drug. Though manufacturers have paid $3.75 billion in settlements for heart valve damage, suits continue to be filed today by those suffering pulmonary hypertension, or raised blood pressure in the lungs. Since it can take up to twenty years for this disease to surface after taking Fen-Phen, users and family members are still suing the manufacturers, five years after the FDA banned sales of the diet drug.
One of the most horrifying cases of a wonder drug gone terribly wrong is the story of Thalidomide. Originally approved for use as a sleep aid, Thalidomide was very widely prescribed to help patients who suffered from insomnia. Because the manufacturer’s research claimed it to be safe for woman and child, doctors gave it to pregnant women as well. The trouble began when Thalidomide was found to cure morning sickness, though it was not approved for that use. In the 47 countries in which it’s use was permitted, the drug was prescribed to women all over the world to combat morning sickness. However, it was soon discovered that this misuse carried terrifying results.
Babies born to mothers who had consumed the drug were born with phocomelia, resulting in malformed or missing limbs, deafness, blindness, and other physical side effects. 90,000 miscarriages and thousands of malformed babies occurred across the world, and adults also suffered neurological damage.
While all three of these “miracle cures” were once praised, all were eventually removed from the market after the reality of their side effects came to light. Just because manufacturers advertise the safety of a drug and doctors prescribe it, doesn’t mean that it is without adverse effects. If you have questions about dangerous drugs or medical devices you can start with a consultation with a an experienced dangerous drug lawyer to discuss your options.
Candice Leftridge is a full-time math student and freelance writer, specializing in the areas of education and science. She lives near El Paso, TX, and enjoys writing articles, advanced algebra and teaching instrumental music. This Army wife and mother of two has also published numerous articles and even a few poems.