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Dealing in Death: Bush’s FDA
A fter years of supposedly protecting the public from dangerous food and drugs, the FDA has embarked on a path to protect corporate profits at all costs. Even death is no obstacle. The stakes for no industry oversight jumped in November when a leading FDA scientist, Dr. David Graham, acknowledged that Merck’s drug for arthritis sufferers, Vioxx, caused as many as 139,000 heart attacks, strokes, and deaths.
Testifying before the Senate, Graham charged that Vioxx had killed between 28,000 to 55,000 people since the FDA placed it on a fast track for approval in 1999. The FDA approval came despite reports that Vioxx carried a high risk for heart attack and stroke. Internal Merck documents reveal that the company has known about the dangers of Vioxx for several years but suppressed the data and marketed it aggressively.
The FDA jumped to Merck’s defense and denounced Graham as “irresponsible” and his opinions as “junk science.” Previously, Graham said the agency suppressed his findings of increased risks after he reviewed 1.4 million patient records from Kaiser Permanente health care systems, showing that heart attack rates were five times higher with Vioxx when compared to another drug.
On November 25, Graham announced that he was facing pressure from FDA officials to move out of drug safety into an administrative role, which would sidetrack him from criticizing FDA enforcement procedures. Graham warned that the FDA has abandoned its watchdog role in favor of a cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry and that the public can no longer expect government pro- tection from deadly medications.
The Senate hearings came on the coattails of the influenza vaccine disaster in October when half the nation’s supply of flu vaccine was found to be contaminated. Some 48 million doses of vaccine from Chiron were taken off the market, leaving the nation far short of the 100 million doses needed for at-risk patients. With flu deaths of approximately 55,000 a year, some predict that tens of thousands will die as a result.
After finding bacterial contamination at Chiron’s vaccine plant in England, the FDA inspected the plant several times and then relied on telephone conference calls, letters, and emails for “reinspection.” In October, the British government shut down the plant for drug contamination, to the shock of the FDA.
Public reassurances over the flu vaccine and the FDA’s response to the dangers of Vioxx are in stark contrast to the recent warnings about the morning after abortion drug RU-486. The FDA issued detailed warnings after one death, reinforcing public perception of the FDA being used for ideological purposes that have little to do with public health.
The RU-486 warnings come as a surprise from an agency that’s increasingly siding with the pharmaceutical industry. OMB Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog group found, “This administration has abandoned work on scores of long-identified public health, safety, and environmental problems. The FDA and EPA alone have withdrawn 60 percent and 52 percent, respectively, of the agenda items carried over from previous administrations.”
In 2004, the FDA failed to meet 70 percent of their own bench- marks for proposed rule-making, final deadlines, and reaching decisions on petitions with deadly consequences. For example, in October 2003, the FDA announced they would issue warnings about the risks and fatal side effects of a toxic heart drug, Cordarone. After 1,000 deaths and thousands of severe medical complications, the FDA has yet to act. The FDA asked the drug’s manufacturer, Wyeth, to write their own regulations, which they have failed to complete.
According to OMB Watch, the FDA has withdrawn 48 identified food and drug safety priorities, almost half of all items on their agenda in May 2002.
Responsible for changing the FDA is Bush appointee for legal affairs, Daniel Troy (a former clerk for Robert Bork), litigant for the anti-regulatory Washington Legal Foundation, and tobacco lawyer, who last represented drug maker Pfizer, collecting up to $415,000 a year in fees.
Unlike his predecessor who held 1 meeting with industry lobbyists, Troy has held over 129 meetings during his 3 years in office. But Troy’s boldest move has been helping drug companies defeat lawsuits. In four separate cases since 2002, the government has asked judges to dismiss potentially costly claims against drug makers. The lack of FDA enforcement is consistent with Bush’s policy of allowing corporations to regulate themselves, akin, critics claim, to allowing the fox to guard the henhouse. If there’s a theme to Bush’s oversight of public health and welfare, it’s that corporate profits trump public safety and public interest.
Don Monkerud is a California-based writer who follows politics.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.