What You Don't Know Can Still (Sometimes) Hurt You - Defective Drugs May Come in Popular Packages


The aging of America has ushered in a Golden Era for pharmaceutical makers. Even within the larger financial success story of the industry, Pfizer's success with the drug Lipitor stands out. Lipitor is the most widely marketed of a group of medications known as statins. By blocking the body's production of certain enzymes, Lipitor and other statins are able to lower an individual's cholesterol levels.

When several clinical studies showed that Lipitor was not only safe but also effective, the Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for sale in 1996, and it became wildly popular, despite a $1200 per year price tag. In 2003 alone, Pfizer saw sales of the drug reach $12 billion.

Pfizer, the company that developed, marketed, and profited enormously from Lipitor, is now facing several class-action lawsuits. Lipitor litigation takes two different forms. One suit argues that while studies proved that Lipitor worked, they also suggested that it worked less when taken by women younger than 65 and all individuals older than 65-a finding that Pfizer opted not to publicize. In essence, the suit contends that people were paying out large sums of money for a drug that did not really help them, and exposed them to the unnecessary risk of side effects and that Pfizer knew about it.

Another suit argues that Lipitor can lead to serious, and in some cases permanent, side effects in some patients-a fact that Pfizer downplayed in its marketing campaign. Instead of warning both doctors and consumers about the potential for rare but potent side effects, Pfizer's own website declared the drug to be "as safe as taking a sugar pill [placebo]."

No one in either suit claims that they received flawed or tainted medication. Both suits go out of their way to state that Lipitor does indeed seem like a safe and effective way for most people to lower their cholesterol. The issue at the core of both suits is Pfizer's failure fully inform consumers about the effectiveness and risks of taking Lipitor.

Drug companies like Pfizer are advertising a product, and even if they are marketing a working product, inaccuracies and incomplete information can be dangerous-and may open the door to product liability claims or other personal injury cases. Ten years after its debut, we are learning that Lipitor--a medication that is widely regarded as both safe and effective--may actually be ineffective or even harmful to some people. This scenario--similar to the recent wave of Vioxx litigation against Merck--is becoming all too common. If Pfizer knew of the dangers and the limits on the drug's effectiveness and didn't tell consumers, they may be required to compensate victims for money expended and medical damages, and possibly even to pay punitive damages.

There is no drug so popular or so "clinically proven" that you should not listen to what your doctor and your body tell you. If you feel that you have been harmed by even the "safest" wonder drug on the market, it may be that a profit-focused company didn't give you the full story.

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