You know, there is one more thing about the Merck case I'd like address. This is brought on partly by the general press coverage of whether Merck knew this or hid that, and partly by an intensely irritating comment to Friday afternoon's post.
You would think, to hear the way some people talk, that no one at Merck ever took Vioxx. That they just launched it onto the market with an evil cackle and a shout of "Caveat emptor", then sat back to watch the money roll in. Actually, employees of Merck very likely took Vioxx at a rate above that of their cohorts in the general population - employee discounts, you know. I've no doubt that this applies to Merck's marketing department, to their clinical development groups, and to their toxicologists. Why shouldn't they take their own company's drug if they're in need of a COX-2 inhibitor?
It's not very far to the conspiracy theories that pop up about cancer, about HIV, about every awful disease you can imagine. "You know," some fool will whisper to you, "that the drug companies really have a cure for it. They're just waiting until more people get sick. In fact, they're probably making sure that as many people get it as possible."
It's difficult for me to express coherently my contempt for that idea. Let me assure you that employees of pharmaceutical companies, and their relatives, and their friends, are potential heirs to every disease that this world offers, just like everyone else. I might add that it's particularly hard to watch someone you know suffer and die from a disease that you've been working for years to treat, but still have nothing to offer for.
So enough of this division between Merck and the rest of the world. Merck is a large company, with tens of thousands of people in it. Many of them took Vioxx. No small number of those people probably worked on it. I'd like to hear how that pulpit-pounding Texas attorney would work them into his world view.
Update: For plenty of good commentary on the legal aspects of the Merck verdict, see Ted Frank's post at Point of Law.