2010 will go down as the year the diet pill Meridia and pain pill Darvon were withdrawn from the market and the heart-attack associated diabetes drug Avandia was severely restricted.
But it was also the year the Justice Department filed the first criminal, not civil, charges against a drug company executive. Lauren Stevens, a former VP and assistant general counsel at GlaxoSmithKline, hid some 1,000 instances of GSK-paid doctors illegally promoting Wellbutrin to other doctors, say authorities.
It was also the year prominent psychiatrists Charles Nemeroff and Alan Schatzberg were accused of writing an entire book for GSK called Recognition and Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: A Psychopharmacology Handbook for Primary Care.
Here are the drugs which make 2010’s Hall of Shame.
Yaz and Yasmin
Soon after Bayer launched the pill Yaz in 2006, billing it as going “beyond birth control,” 18-year-olds were coming down with blood clots, gall bladder disease, heart attacks and even strokes. FDA ordered Bayer to run correction ads that detail the drugs’ risks though Yaz sales are still brisk. In fact, financial analysts attribute a third quarter slump to a Yaz generic coming online, not dangerous side effects.
Lyrica, Topamax and Lamictal
In August FDA ordered a warning on the seizure drug Lamictal for aseptic meningitis (brain inflammation) but it is still the darling of military and civilian doctors for unapproved pain and migraine uses. All three drugs increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors according to their mandated labels, in addition to the memory and hair loss patients report.
Humira, Prolia and TNF Blockers
The drug industry’s highly promoted biologic drugs are made from genetically engineered hamster cells and suppress the immune system, inviting tuberculosis and several cancers. Yet Humira is advertised to healthy people for “clearer skin” and Prolia is advertised to prevent osteoporosis in healthy women.
After 397 FDA cases of possible psychosis, 227 domestic reports of suicidal behaviors and 28 actual suicides, the government banned pilots, air-traffic controllers and interstate truck and bus drivers from taking the antismoking drug Chantix in 2008. Its neuropsychiatric effects were immortalized when New Bohemians musician Carter Albrecht was shot to death in 2007 in Texas by a neighbor after acting aggressively on the Chantix.
The sleeping pill Ambien was immortalized as the drug Tiger Woods reportedly cavorted with his consorts on and former US Rep. Patrick Kennedy crashed his Ford Mustang on, while driving to Capitol Hill in the middle of the night to “vote” in 2006. Law enforcement officials say it has increased traffic accidents from people who drive in a black out and don’t even recognize arresting officers.
Is it a coincidence that Tamoxifen maker AstraZeneca founded Breast Cancer Awareness Month and makes carcinogenic agrochemicals that cause breast cancer? As a breast cancer prevention drug, an American Journal of Medicine study found the average life expectancy increase from Tamoxifen was nine day . Public Citizen says for every case of breast cancer prevented on Tamoxifen there is a life-threatening case of blood clots, stroke or endometrial cancer.
Lipitor and Crestor
Why is Lipitor the best selling drug in the world? Because every adult with high LDL or fear of high LDL is on it. And also 2.8 million children, says Consumer Reports. All statins can cause muscle breakdown called rhabdomyolysis. And Crestor is so linked to the side effect, Public Citizen calls it a Do Not Use and the FDA’s David Graham named it one of the five most dangerous drugs before at a Congressional hearing.
Boniva and other bisphosphonate bone drugs are a good example of FDA approving once unapprovable drugs by transferring risk onto the public’s shoulders. The list of dangers on the label includes waiting 60 minutes before eating or drinking anything except plain water, never taking the drug with mineral water, sparkling water, coffee, tea, milk, juice or other oral medicine, including calcium, antacids, or vitamins and not lying down after you take it.
Pfizer’s hormone drug Prempro is linked to a 26 percent increase in breast cancer, 41 percent increase in strokes, 29 percent increase in heart attacks, 22 percent increase in cardiovascular disease and double the rate of blood clots. But its cognitive and cardiovascular “benefits” are being tested right now at major universities to debut an HT “Light,” hoping the public has a short memory.
Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, SSRIs
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRIs) antidepressants like Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Lexapro probably did more to inflate drug industry profits than Viagra. But many say the drugs have also inflated police blotters. In addition to 4,200 published reports of SSRI-related violence, including the Columbine, Red Lake and NIU shootings, SSRIs can cause serotonin syndrome and gastrointestinal bleeding when taken with certain drugs. Paxil is linked to birth defects.
Effexor, Cymbalta, Pristiq, SNRIs
Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are like their SSRIs chemical cousins except their norepinephrine effects can modulate pain, which has ushered in your-depression-is-really-pain, your-pain-is-really-depression and other crossover marketing. SNRI’s are also harder to quit than SSRIs. 739,000 web sites address “Effexor” and “withdrawal.”
Seroquel, Zyprexa, Geodon, atypical antipsychotics
The antipsychotic Seroquel tops 71 drugs on the FDA’s January 2010 adverse event report and is linked to unexplained troop deaths and many research scandals. But it’s the fifth biggest-selling drug in the world. Atypical antipsychotics cause weight gain and diabetes, the tardive dyskinesia they are marketed to prevent and death in the demented elderly. Yet FDA approved Zyprexa and Seroquel for children last year and the new atypical antipsychotic, Latuda this year. Maybe the FDA is bipolar.
Ritalin, Concerta, Strattera, Adderall and ADHD Drugs
ADHD drugs rob “kids of their right to be kids, their right to grow, their right to experience their full range of emotions, and their right to experience the world in its full hue of colors,” says Anatomy of an Epidemic author Robert Whitaker. But they are a gold mine for the drug industry. During an August conference call with financial analysts, Shire specialty pharmaceuticals president Mike Cola lauded the “very dynamic ADHD market,” and the “co-administration market” (in which kids don’t need one drug but several.
Gardasil and Cervarix Vaccines
A pharma-government plot to inoculate the public with dangerous vaccines? Maybe not but why are governors like Texas’ Rick Perry mandating vaccination of girls for HPV? And why was University of Queensland lecturer Andrew Gunn silenced when he questioned the Gardasil vaccine? The HPV vaccine doesn’t work for all viral strains, requires a boo$ter and is linked to 56 US girls’ deaths as of September, according to the CDC.
Foradil Aerolizer, Serevent Diskus, Advair and Symbicort
Unlike drugs that look safe in trials and develop “safety signals” postmarketing, the long-acting beta agonists (LABA), salmeterol and formoterol, found in many asthma drugs, never looked safe. Studies link them to an increase in asthma deaths, especially in African-Americans and children. They may have contributed to 5,000 deaths said Dr. David Graham at FDA hearings about the controversial asthma drugs.
Singulair and Accolate, leukotriene receptor antagonists
Leukotriene receptor antagonists also never looked safe. Original FDA reviewers said asthma control “deteriorates” on Singulair and it may not be safe in children. Last month, Fox TV reported Singulair, Merck’s top selling drug, is suspected of producing aggression, hostility, irritability, anxiety, hallucinations and night-terrors in kids, symptoms that are being diagnosed as ADHD. It is huckstered to parents by the trusted educational service Scholastic, Inc. and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
MARTHA ROSENBERG can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org