Merck, one of the biggest producers of pharmaceuticals in the world, recently created a “hit list” of doctors who have criticized one of their drugs, Vioxx. Vioxx is designed to decrease pain and lower inflammation. According to testimony in a case against Vioxx in Australia, a list containing doctors names was sent around among several Merck employees. The doctors on the list had all criticized Vioxx, so the employees stated The that each one be “neutralized” or “discredited” so people would not believe their criticisms of Vioxx.
Australian newspaper The Australian reported that emails between high level executives at Merck from 1999 showed them complaining about doctors’ resistance to Vioxx. One email said, “We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live.”
When asked about the emails, the lawyer for the people suing Vioxx (the plaintiff) said that they reveal a lot about the how the company wishes to deal with criticism. The executives at Merck operate in their own self interest, more interested in profits than the success of their treatment in patients. In other words, when Merck disagrees with you — or if you disagree with them — they try to destroy you.
A professor of medicine at Stanford University, James Fries, actually wrote to then Merck president Ray Gilmartin in late 2000. Fries expressed his unhappiness with how Merck had been treating some Stanford researchers who had criticized Vioxx. Not only did Merck treat those researchers poorly, but Fries says Merck threatened him in an attempt to control him. This is the first time he has spoken out on the subject, as he had previously feared retaliation from the company.
This situation is not the first of its kind for Merck and Vioxx. Merck has also been accused of creating a fake medical journal to publish more positive studies on Vioxx. The company also paid “ghostwriters” from outside companies to write positively about the drug. Those “ghostwriters” would claim to be doing an independent review or analysis of Vioxx when they were actually writing exactly what Merck wanted them to write.