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Could half a million Americans have died from the effects of this one drug?

The number of people that Vioxx killed before being hustled off the market by Merck is said to be around 55,000.

That’s a lot. But some believe it could be a whole lot more.

When Ron Unz, who is the publisher of The American Conservative decided to crunch some numbers he came to a shocking conclusion.

Vioxx, which made Merck over $2 billion a year, was one of its biggest sellers. Over 25 million Americans took the drug before it was “recalled” by the manufacturer in 2004.

Knowing all that made Unz curious about a news story he noticed back in 2005. The USA Today headline said, “USA records largest drop in annual deaths in at least 60 years.”

It seems that in that one year, the number of deaths in the U.S. dropped by 50,000. And that, he noted, was despite the growth in size and the growing age of the population. Officials said they were “surprised.” Especially by the “sharp drop in fatal heart attacks.”

Vioxx, he said, was heavily marketed to those over 65, the same group that is now living longer — only starting the year after Vioxx went off the market.

And that death rate has continued to go down. Unz said it could amount to 100,000 fewer deaths a year.

The “patterns of cause and effect cannot easily be proven,” he said, but, when you see these dangerous drugs taken off the market and then “an immediate drop in the national rate of fatal heart attacks” the possibilities are “quite serious.”

But why does he seem to be the only one that noticed this? Even Unz wonders about all those lawyers who sued Merck for billions on Vioxx death cases.

How could Vioxx have been responsible for killing a half a million Americans and only one man managed to uncover it?


“When half a million Americans died and nobody noticed” Alexander Cockburn, The Week,