Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Unknown Risks/Unknown Rewards

There have been many instances where a medication has been found to be more hazardous than thought (or let onto) in research and trials. The latest of which has been Merck's Vioxx and other Cox-2 inhibitor pain killers.

The fact that Vioxx had been pulled from the market is hardly an odd thing. What is unusual is that it has been given, if not a green light, at least a yellow light to return to the market. Despite the risks, the FDA has declared Vioxx to be safe enough provided sufficient warning is given.

I'm sure there are some knee-jerk anti-corporatists who think that Big Pharmaceuticals must have spread around a big chunk of dough to keep their product on the market. I prefer to believe that it was the sincere response of Vioxx users who stepped forward and said tht they have gotten relief due to the drug that is worth the extra risk of coronary failure related death.

That the FDA has allowed a medication to return to the market is rather heartening. With respect to medications, it has been the reason for existence for the FDA to decide on what level of risk is appropriate for consumers. More than drugs, as the banning of silicone breast implants shows. That Vioxx had been on the market long enough for not only the drawbacks but the benefits to be evident, it allowed the consumer to make a truly informed decision.

This makes me wonder how many drugs that some people would consider worth the risk have been killed by regulation. Every time a new drug comes out on the market, its effects and side effects are only known to a best guess. The variation on that best guess is the risk inherent in any medication. I am personally glad that the FDA has left the choice to consumers rather than removing that choice "for our protection".

Lastly, the publicity surrounding the safety of Cox-2 inhibiters should also be of benefit to their makers. After all, how can anyone say they didn't know the risks after so much media attention?

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