Sales plunge for drugs due to safety concerns

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- For years, Americans have been popping painkillers like they were candy to treat everything from headaches to arthritis. But new data show America's love affair with the medications may have cooled off after the blockbuster drug Vioxx was pulled from the market over safety concerns.
The data say sales of prescription arthritis drugs plunged at the end of 2004, after Merck & amp; Co. Inc. of Whitehouse Station, N.J., pulled Vioxx from the market Sept. 30 and a string of recent studies raised safety concerns about other widely used pain medicines.
Nonprescription pain reliever sales jumped by double digits in late 2004, but doctors and other pain experts believe many patients are simply suffering in silence, confused about what pain medication is best for them.
"I've been in practice for 30 years and I've never seen such a mess," said Dr. Michel Dubois, director of the New York University Pain Management Center.
He estimates about 20 percent of his patients have switched from Cox-2 inhibitors, the painkiller class including Vioxx and Pfizer Inc.'s Celebrex and Bextra, to narcotic painkillers or nonprescription ones. Another 20 percent have stopped taking painkillers altogether.
Three-day meeting
Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will meet for three days starting Wednesday to try to find a balance between the benefits and potential dangers of Cox-2 drugs. The FDA eventually is likely to require strong warnings on the drugs' labels, further dampening Cox-2 sales, predicted independent pharmaceuticals analyst Hemant Shah of HKS & amp; Co.
Meanwhile, data released Monday by IMS Health of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., show prescriptions filled for Cox-2 inhibitors -- preferred by many patients and doctors because they cause less stomach and intestinal problems than older anti-inflammatory drugs -- dropped 43 percent in December 2004 from a year earlier.
IMS, a pharmaceutical information and consulting company, said the number of Cox-2 prescriptions filled at retail and mail-order pharmacies and nursing homes, about 70 percent of U.S. sales, fell from 4.5 million in September to 2.7 million in December.
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