Health Canada Permits Dangerous Drugs

Updated: 21 May 2008, 22:59

Originally written: 05 January 2005

Arthritis medication Vioxx has been recalled because it poses a significant risk of heart attack and stroke. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Health Canada and the Food and Drug Administration in the United States must have known of that risk years before Vioxx was finally removed from the market.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal says that it is so easy for pharmaceutical companies to get approval for new products, that Health Canada has effectively sanctioned medications without adequate proof of safety. The Canadian Medical Association Journal refers to the “built-in bias” in favour of approving whatever the pharmaceutical companies want to sell.

Further, the Canadian Medical Association Journal contends that Health Canada has a “fragmentary and underfunded” drug surveillance system which relies on doctors to voluntarily warn of negative reactions to drugs. The Canadian Medical Association Journal calls the Health Canada approach a “fundamental and (often literally) fatal flaw” in an organization supposedly protecting consumers from pharmaceutical companies. The Journal asks “Why did it take four years for the increased risk of serious cardiovascular adverse events to emerge?”

According to Health Canada, they were aware of longstanding concerns, but there was no consensus until last year on the risk.

Dr. John Hoey, editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, says that pharmaceutical companies do not need to show that their new products are better than drugs currently on the market.

They apparently only need to show that their new products work better than placebos. The studies showing the wonders of the new products are conducted by people selected and paid by the pharmaceutical companies.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal wants to replace Health Canada with a new agency, at arms-length from the government.

The problem is not the length of the government’s arms. The problem is that the agencies, old or new, which are supposedly protecting us from the pharmaceutical companies, are stuck in a paradigm which puts profit first. That is not a failing of the government, or of those at Health Canada. It is a failing of the working class, which remains crazy-glued to capitalism.

As long as profit is the approved motivation in society, profit will continue to win over health issues. Drugs are recalled to protect patients, but more significant is the need to protect the pharmaceutical companies from litigation. Consider the timing in this instance. It is very difficult to imagine that Merck, the manufacturer, was not aware of the dangers before Health Canada and the FDA. Health Canada admits it knew of long-term concerns.

If the drug companies, and their lawyers, can convince the courts that they took action as soon as they were sure of the problem, they can probably avoid liability. That is what motivates a business to forego a profitable product. They can cry crocodile tears until the streets are awash, but they are far more concerned with profits than with the health of the people who pay for the commodities sold by the pharmaceutical industry.

This is not to say that Raymond V. Gilmartin, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Merck does not care about the people to whom they sell drugs. The issue is not the compassion of anyone. The issue is the nature of capitalism which forces profit to the fore. If the CEOs of the pharmaceutical corporations waited an extra four years before selling any of their products, they would not be CEOs for very log. They are forced to cut costs (even though their costs are enormous) and rush products to market. Capitalism is a cruel taskmaster.

Capitalism forces every business to consider the bottom line first, second, and third. Further down the priority chain is the welfare of the consumer.

Instead of removing the motivation to supply high profit products, people are willing to continue to place small hurdles in front of the profit-makers. Litigation is substituted for solutions. Litigation is an important factor which prevents at least some of the worst excesses possible. Is the worst all we should worry about?

Instead of making it harder for the profit-makers to kill us, we suggest that removing the impetus for the profit-makers to kill us is a much more reasonable and beneficial approach. Remove the profit motive, and the justification for making unsafe products disappears.

Mistakes will never be eradicated. The chance that the mistakes will be known, and permitted to kill people for years, can easily be reduced, significantly, by changing the reason for production. Instead of production for profit, we need production for use. That is not possible while capitalism reigns.

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