FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

After Billions Are Made, Risks from Asthma Drug Emerge

by MARTHA ROSENBERG

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).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail