Friday, February 11, 2005

Caught in the Cross-Fire: Merck Tried to "Neutralize" Vioxx Opponents

Here is a new kind of example of how physicians have been caught in cross-fires between competing interests.
The NY Times reported today about some newly obtained documents about how Merck marketed Vioxx. Particularly striking were references in them to the need to "neutralize" physicians who Merck marketers perceived were Vioxx opponents. To quote the Times, "In the 'neutralize' documents written by a Merck marketing executive, company officials identified dozens of influential but 'problem' physicians whom [sic] the company believed had either a negative view of Merck or Vioxx or were active boosters of Celebrex. To win them over, the documents show, Merck officials planned to offer them carrots like clinical trials, posts as consultants, or give them grants." A form that Merck used internally to request payments for doctors asked for "Expected Outcome/ Return on Investment."
When I first read the headline, I feared "neutralization" meant something even more sinister. But the reality was bad enough. This is a vivid case of how when physicians are caught between powerful organizations, here, competing drug companies, the patients' interests seem to come last.

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