Canada may put Vioxx back on the market

File this one under: What the heck are they thinking?

America’s favorite drug supplier (that would be Canada) may soon put Vioxx back on the shelves.

For anyone who has just returned from Mars: Vioxx is the prescription painkiller that was pulled from the market by executives at Merck & Co. (the maker of Vioxx) last fall after a study showed that heart attack and stroke risk were doubled when taking the drug.

Since then, Merck honchos have opened discussions with the FDA with an eye towards bringing Vioxx back on the market.

Now a panel of “experts” convened by Health Canada (their counterpart to our FDA) has voted 12-1 to recommend that the HC should put Vioxx back on the market. A Merck spokesman told the Associated Press (AP) that no decision has been made yet about how to proceed with Vioxx in Canada.

The panel stated that Vioxx and other COX-2 inhibitors pose risks similar to NSAIDs. But I’ll bet that Curt Furberg, M.D., might not agree with that. Dr. Furberg was a member of a similar panel here in the U.S. that filed a recommendation for the FDA similar to that HC recommendation. But Dr. Furberg was a dissenting voice. Speaking to the New York Times, he estimated that as many as 50 people may die each day as a result of taking the COX-2 inhibitors.

Dr. Furberg added that he didn’t feel comfortable with “the Pfizer-friendly undertone” on the panel’s deliberations. (Pfizer makes two COX-2 inhibitors: Celebrex and Bextra.)

Maybe a similar “undertone” would provide a clue for answering the question: What the heck are they thinking?

“Canadian Panel Recommends Sale of Vioxx” Associated Press, 7/7/05,