Deceiving Warning Labels

Generally, most of us trust warning labels when it comes to drugs. We assume that since the FDA monitors these labels and subsequently approves them, they must be safe. In contrast, some drug companies, including Merck’s ‘Vioxx,’ deceivingly spin their labels in spite of FDA warnings.

In 1997, Merck was aware that their drug Vioxx caused heart attacks, yet they hid this information. It wasn’t until a study, Vioxx Gastrointestinal Outcomes Research, otherwise known as VIGOR, released this information that they had to act on these findings. Not only was Merck hiding necessary information, but they also continued to promote their drug. As written in the article, Warning Label Spin, “The company maintained its annual half billion dollar budget for promotions to doctors, and another $160 million for direct to consumer advertising.”

When looking at this crisis from an anthropological standpoint, it’s easy to see Merck’s motive for hiding this information. The company’s goal was to keep Vioxx available so they could continue to profit from it. Merck used marketing tactics and tried to “spin” the findings from VIGOR into an opportunity to keep profiting. For example, when the FDA proposed a new version of the warning label for Vioxx, Merck responded with edits they hoped to make. One section of the FDA warning label stated that there was a higher risk of congestive heart failure in comparison to an alternate drug, naproxen, yet Merck disregarded this information in their version. This once again displays their fight against the FDA, which the FDA eventually won when Merck pulled Vioxx off the shelves.