FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Merck’s Merry Christmas

For all three groups Christmas came early. For the first group it came in September. For the second group it came in mid-December and for the third group, which got the best present, it came at the end of November. All the gifts came from Merck & Co.

On September 30 folks who had suffered from arthritic joints that were being helped by Merck’s Vioxx learned that although the joints might feel better their hearts might not share in the relief. On that date it was revealed that the FDA had issued a statement in which it said that people taking Vioxx: “face twice the risk of a heart attack compared to patients receiving a placebo.” Those with sore joints probably did not relish the thought of relieving joint pain at the risk of dying of a heart attack. It hardly seemed like a reasonable quid pro quo. Although I am not a scientist and hence unable to judge who is right and who is wrong, there are those in the scientific community who believe that Merck knew or could have known, had it chosen to look, that the drug posed a considerable risk to its users.

According to one group of Swiss scientists, Merck should have known of the problem as early as 2000. The group at the University of Berne analyzed the results of 18 “randomized clinical trials” and 11 “observational studies.” The scientists, conclusions were that a decision to remove the drug from the market place should have come three years before the decision was in fact reached. The scientists said that Merck’s own study called “Vigor” demonstrated that people taking Vioxx had a five times greater chance of having a heart attack than similar patients on another anti-inflammatory drug also being used to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted with arthritis. The Swiss scientists were not the only researchers who questioned Merck’s conduct with respect to that drug.

On December 2, 1999 the doctor who headed the Vigor trial for Merck wrote a memorandum in which he said Vioxx patients were suffering twice as many events of death or “serious cardiovascular” problems as patients using naproxen. Whether Merck knew or should have known others will decide as time goes on. What everyone knows is it was an early Christmas present of the unpleasant sort for those who had been taking the drug.

An equally unpleasant Christmas present was delivered to 700 Merck employees exactly 10 days before Christmas. They were told that they would be losing their jobs before year end. In doing so, they were joining the 4,400 other Merck employees who had already been told their jobs would disappear. The 700 persons who were losing their jobs were being fired because of the adverse effect news of Vioxx’s removal from the market place had on the company’s earnings. As unpleasant as all that news was for customers and low level employees, there was one group of people associated with Merck for whom the Christmas season promised to be a lot more cheerful. Those were the highly paid executives at the company.

One of the risks attendant upon disclosures such as those made about Vioxx, is that the company manufacturing the tainted drug may be taken over by another company. When that happens there is always a chance that the top level employees will find themselves jobless which is, understandably, distressing to the affected employees. In an attempt to protect top level employees from such untoward effects and in order to give them the peace of mind everyone wants during the holidays, the Board of Directors of Merck did a very courageous thing, even knowing that people like me would probably be critical since the company’s stock has dropped by 70 percent since 2000 and suffered a $25 billion loss in market value following the Vioxx withdrawal announcement on September 30.

On November 30 it said, in so many words, that it was doing something to guarantee its top 230 managers a peaceful holiday season. If another company buys all of Merck or as little as 20 percent of its stock, those managers will each get between 1.5 and 3 years salary plus a bonus. That would warm anyone’s hearth and heart during Christmas and that’s not all. If following a takeover, one of the 230 gets fired or resigns for good cause, the payment will be made. No one knows how much that will cost the company but some analysts say it will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Anita Larsen is a Merck spokeswoman. She says this has nothing to do with Vioxx problems. The board had been considering this plan long before September 30. That might be. Only a really clever group of corporate types would announce it after September 30 and shortly before announcing that the company was spoiling Christmas for an additional 700 employees. Welcome to the world of corporate America and a happy new year.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer living in Colorado. His column is syndicated by Knight-Ridder. He can be reached at: Brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

 

More articles by:
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail