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Celebrex May Increase Risk of Heart Attack

Dec 17, 2004 | CNN/Money

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR: Happening now, millions of Americans taking a closer look at their prescription drugs, now that another hugely popular drug has come under a cloud. Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.

Drug dangers. Now Celebrex side effects. Should you worry about what's in your medicine cabinet?

BLITZER: Millions of Americans are questioning whether they should keep taking one of the most popular prescription painkillers, Celebrex, after a study showed it may increase the risk of heart attack. That news comes just weeks after the recall of Vioxx because of similar side effects. We have complete coverage for you. Mary Snow is standing by with the impact on prescription drug safety. But we begin with CNN's Allan Chernoff, with the details of this latest stunning finding.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after the Vioxx recall, this is exactly what many arthritis patients feared most. Pfizer thought it was in the clear until last night.

Celebrex is the top pain medication for arthritis, but it was in a cancer prevention study that the drug's potential danger was uncovered. Pfizer says it found out Thursday night that patients taking 400 or 800 milligrams of Celebrex a day had a two-and- one-half times greater chance of heart attack or stroke than those taking a placebo.

HANK MCKINNELL, PFIZER CEO: The company received this information about 5:00 PM last night. I first heard about it about 8:00 PM last night. We advised the Food and Drug Administration immediately, and we announced this morning information that we thought was important to prescribing physicians and to patients benefiting from Celebrex.

CHERNOFF: Pfizer is keeping the drug on the market, though it plans a new study of Celebrex in arthritis patients beginning next year. The recommended dosage for such patients ranges between 100 and 400 milligrams a day, depending on the type of arthritis. Some doctors say it may be best to drop the medicine.

DR. MARIE GRIFFIN, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: I think for people who are at high risk of heart disease, there's more of an immediate you know, they need to do something right away. For other people, I think we feel that we need more safety information on these drugs. So it's our feeling that it's better not to use them until we know more about the safety.

CHERNOFF: Celebrex is the top arthritis drug in the world. Americans doctors alone have written 27 million prescriptions for the drug, with sales of more than $3 billion this year. Pfizer encouraged arthritis patients to switch to Celebrex after Merck pulled Vioxx off the market when it was found to pose risk of heart trouble. Both are in the same class of painkillers known as Cox 2 inhibitors.

Pfizer's stock tumbled 11 percent today, as investors fear that sales of Celebrex are going to take a dive. And Wolf, as you know, Pfizer is a member of the Dow Jones industrial average and a core holding in many large mutual funds Wolf.

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff reporting for us. Thank you, Allan, very much.

Pfizer's CEO also is emphasizing that the increased risk of heart problems was found only in people taking higher doses of Celebrex than recommended.

MCKINNELL: I think what we know, at this point, is that consumers taking Celebrex at 800 milligrams, which is 4 to 8 times the recommended dose, should not be continuing. And we have discontinued the dosing of patients in the study. The study itself is continuing. We've discontinued the dosing. We do know from a wealth of other information, some from FDA studies, some from our studies, some from others, that Celebrex, when taken as recommended, at the doses recommended, is safe and effective.

BLITZER: With word, though, of potentially deadly side effects from two popular prescription medicines within just two months, is there growing concern about drug safety in general? CNN's Mary Snow joining us now with that part of the story Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, not only is there concern about the safety of some drugs, there's also growing concern about the way these drugs are being marketed.

SNOW: With ads like this help (ph) make Celebrex popular, analysts project sales of the drug will generate roughly $3.4 billion worldwide this year. While announcements like the one about Celebrex are worrisome, doctors say drug companies are not to blame.

DR. JOHN ABRAMSON, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: The drug companies are no more responsible for our health than the fast food industry is for the quality of our diet.

SNOW: John Abramson, author of "Overdose Nation," says the real responsibility pharmaceutical companies have is to generate profits. And the industry is growing. Last year, Americans spent an estimated $216 billion on prescriptions, an estimated 11.5 percent increase over a year. Critics say with profits driving the marketing, health takes a back seat.

DR. SIDNEY WOLFE, PUBLIC CITIZEN: The FDA is not doing a good job protecting people from dangerous drugs. Part of the reason is that the FDA gets funded directly from the drug industry and is much kinder to the drug industry than it is protective of the public health.

SNOW: Public Citizen lists 180 drugs it believes are not safe. It wants to see more congressional oversight of the drug industry, an industry that some doctors say is having an effect in the offices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has been a trend to patients distrusting both the pharmaceutical industry, the FDA, sometimes their physician.

SNOW: Some patients are thinking twice about what's in their medicine cabinets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not a person who takes medication easily, and so then, when you hear something like this, then you say, You see? I'm right.

SNOW: But doctors say the danger of a possible backlash against the pharmaceutical industry is that people might not take the medicine they need.

ABRAMSON: I think it's very important for people not to stop medicines, not to stop prescription medicines without talking to their doctors.

SNOW: Now, the FDA has defended its drug review process in the past. As for Celebrex, it says it just got this data last night. It's reviewing it, and it plans to have more to say within the coming days Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York, as well, thank you, Mary, very much.

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