Since I was speaking about who might win the first Vioxx trial, I should finish my thoughts. If Merck loses (which they may or may not deserve to), the next question is what sort of damages they should pay out.
It's safe to say that my estimate and that of Mark Lanier, the chief attorney for the plaintiffs, would differ by several orders of magnitude. He would doubtless be overjoyed by, say, a three hundred million dollar award, and would rejoice at the thought of this opening the floodgates for more of the same. I, on the other hand, would be extremely upset at the likely destruction of a great drug company.
What to do? I sometimes think that every prescription in the country should be covered by a blanket waiver, which would go something like this:
"The manufacturer, together with the Food and Drug Administration, have investigated the safety and efficacy of this medication. By allowing it to be dispensed, these parties have agreed that, on the basis of the available data, its use represents a reasonable return in beneficial health effects, as compared to the concomitant risks.
By accepting this medication, you the consumer agree that you have been informed that these risks are real, and that they can include, but are not necessarily limited to, those detailed in the package insert. Although medications are tested in humans before regulatory approval, no such clinical trials can possibly predict what may occur when a new drug is widely dispensed in the general population. Use of this medication will define you as a participant in the post-approval study of this drug, and may affect your legal status to obtain redress from any real or perceived injuries associated with its use.
Should any criminal activity be shown to have occurred during the development or approval of this drug, including but not limited to the presentation of fraudulent data or the witholding of relevant information, this waiver may be voided in whole or in part."
The chances of such a thing coming into force? Snowball, hell.