Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, is only now beginning to get past its debacle with Vioxx, a disaster I foresaw way back in July of 2002 with a piece titled “Ads For Wonder Drugs.” Dorothy Hamill was the shill back then.
It says something about shillery and the possible side effects of shilling (like being named in lawsuits) that the Celebrex model Pfizer shows, crewing a sailboat, in its full page New Yorker ad is anonymous. Fool the big names once, but don’t try it twice.
Twice is just more than fine for the public, though. Pfizer hasn’t a moment’s hesitation in bannering that “2 hours sailing won’t keep you from having all hands on deck.”
That’s cute. Do they mean all hands as in supporting yourself during a stroke? Will a heart attack top off those happy hours on board?
It’s a here-we-go-again moment, another pill company giving not a tinkers damn about the side effects of their dangerous answer to whatever your level of joint-pain might be. Constant escapr clauses to ‘always check with your doctor.’ So, why not just market to the doctors? Because they want the ache-and-pain crowd in their doctor’s office, shaking the latest miracle in his face. Fourth paragraph down in the ad, underlined, for help in court at a later date;
Important Information: CELEBREX, like all prescription NSAIDS, may increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke that can lead to death. It should not be used right before or after certain heart surgeries. Serious skin reactions or stomach and intestine problems such as bleeding and ulcers can occur without warning and may cause death.
Lot of talk about death, along with sailing free from pain.
Pfizer Chairman Hank McKinnell, along with Vice-Chairmen Karen Katen, David Shedlarz and Jeff Kindler, are the ethical heavyweights of the company (one would presume). And yet they (apparently) see no problem with all this statistically acceptable death, illness and mayhem on the part of a company that claims
“We dedicate ourselves to humanity’s quest for longer, healthier, happier lives through innovation in pharmaceutical, consumer and animal health products.”
You have to take your hat off to that kind of dedication.
Ethics aside, the practicality of maiming and killing in the name of ‘humanity’s quest’ comes from the fact that no lawsuit is capable of punishing the company. The company does not pay. Merck shook off its liability like a quick summer shower.
Two entities pay, neither of them the corporation. In the case of a write-off (writing down the cost of litigation and jury awards), the taxpayer pays to the degree that punitive damages and legal fees are deductible and the stockholders pick up the rest. In the case of longer-term payouts required by the courts, consumers pay in the increased cost of drugs.
Essentially, the pharmaceutical industry has a ‘license to kill,’ a rarity they share with James Bond.
It’s beyond a simple Google-search to find out what McKinnell, Katen, Shedlarz and Kindler actually earn off all this cleverly presented advertising, but Hank’s 2005 compensation is guesstimated to be about $16 million. Who knows? But one would expect he’s unlikely to be taking his own medicine.
But while we’re on the subject of taking one’s own medicine, it would seem that there should be more to governance over a pharmaceutical corporation than financial oversight and long-range planning.
It would seem that signing off on responsibility for product safety (other than lip-service to ‘healthier, happier lives through innovation’) ought to be part and parcel of earning a million and a half a month. Particularly when the stakes are so high on downside liabilities. If you’re too busy, Hank, hand it over to one of those three Vice-Chairmen.
Recently, the courts found Ken Lay responsible for actions within Enron that he should have known about and supervised. Certainly the chairman and vice-chairmen of Pfizer know about the side effects of Celebrex. It’s there in print. I direct each of them to their own advertisements.
Wrongfully misleading investors has Lay headed for prison. No prison sentence was handed down or even asked-for against Merck, even though the company willfully and knowingly killed and maimed a bunch of their consumers.
Until that happens, until such corporate governors as Hank McKinnell, Karen Katen, David Shedlarz and Jeff Kindler go to the pokey for the arrogance of killing us as a side-effect, that won’t change.
Meanwhile, if you take Celebrex and suffer ‘heart failure from body swelling (fluid retention),’ don’t bother to call. They’re probably in the Hamptons.