After Billions Are Made, Risks from Asthma Drug Emerge


World sales of Merck’s blockbuster asthma drug, Singulair, were about $5 billion a year until last year when its patent expired in the United States. But the drug also has a darkening cloud over it. The Australian medicine watchdog has received 58 reports of adverse psychiatric events in children and teenagers taking Singulair since 2000 and reports have also surfaced in the US.

Singulair, a leukotriene receptor antagonist or LTRA, is one of several “add-on” asthma drugs that were debuted in the last decade. Patients are supposed to add the new, “asthma controller” drugs to their regular rescue inhalers and inhaled corticosteroids not replace them. Ka-ching.

In the US, Singulair was heavily marketed for minor childhood allergies, in addition to asthma, and sold in a cherry-flavored chewable formulation. Merck had marketing partnerships with Scholastic, a leading educational publishing group, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, reported the US’ Fox News.

Sales pieces from the Scholastic/ Merck partnership cajoled parents, “When your child breathes in an asthma trigger, such as pollen from trees or weeds, the body releases leukotrienes (loo-ko-TRY-eens)” which Singulair blocks. But they also told parents their children could experience, “hallucinations (seeing things that are not there), irritability, restlessness, sleepwalking, suicidal thoughts and actions (including suicide), trembling, and trouble sleeping,” on the drug. At least they wouldn’t be sniffling.

In 2009, after 15-year-old Cody Miller of Queensbury, NY was given Singulair for hay fever and took his own life 17 days later, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave Singulair a stronger warning for “neuropsychiatric” side effects. The next year, Fox TV, a leading US television network, reported that children on Singulair are being diagnosed with ADHD, Tourette Syndrome and serious behavioral and neurological conditions caused by the drugs. Most are “cured” when they go off the drug but some are not and are then given other damaging pediatric behavioral drugs.

Over 100 parents on the popular US drug-rating web site askapatient.com, corroborate the evidence, reporting that Singulair caused hyperactivity, tantrums, depression, crying, school trouble, facial tics, strange eye movements and self-harm in their children, some as young as one year old. Many of the children were prescribed Singulair for sniffles and wheezing which were called early symptoms of asthma, commensurate with Pharma’s “early treatment” business model.

“Last night was a complete meltdown over every single thing that could have possibly been a minor annoyance, such as not being able to squeeze enough toothpaste out of the tube, which culminated in a 30-minute screaming and crying bonanza,” writes the mother of a 7-year-old who has been on Singulair for six months. “I was reading stories to her tonight, and she must have popped her jaw open at least 40 times over the course of two books (mouth open wide like a yawn in fast-forward). I was keeping an eye on her, and a few times I asked her why she kept doing that and she said she didn’t know, and she thought maybe her mouth was ‘itchy.'”

“Do NOT recommend this drug to other parents,” writes another mother. “4 year olds that suddenly talk about killing themselves are influenced by a DRUG!!”

Even adults are put on Singulair for minor reasons with major consequences. “I was perfectly healthy prior to taking this drug,” reports a 53-year-old woman about Singulair on the askapatient web site.  “Doc noticed I had a little wheeze and prescribed Singulair. I began to have the dreams, insomnia and depression after the first few days,” which led to “suicidal thoughts,” she says.

Like many of Big Pharma’s blockbuster drugs, Singulair made billions by selling “diseases”–in this case childhood allergies and asthma. And like many blockbuster drugs, the true dangers have only emerged since the drug went off patent and the profit potential was gone.

Watch Martha on a Huffington Live discussing the pharmaceutical industry.

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Uri Avnery
There is No Such Thing as International Terrorism
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Patrick Cockburn
Nasty Surprises: the Problem With Bombing ISIS
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Bill Blunden
Glenn Greenwald Stands by the Official Narrative
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Karen Lee Wald
Inside the Colombia Peace Deal
Geoff Dutton
War in Our Time
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme Park
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability