Developing drugs to alleviate or cure certain conditions is a tricky business. The human body is both complex and delicate, requiring that whatever may be synthetically produced and introduced to the body be done with extreme care and caution. A series of recent lawsuits (around 900 total) are claiming that Fosamax, an osteoporosis drug produced by Merck & Co., causes the death of jawbone tissue, which has led to jaw removal for several users of the drug. The first case went to trial today, August 11th.
The plaintiff argues that Merck failed in their duty to provide safe drugs to consumers and make potential health risks clear to consumers. Allegedly, Merck knew about the apparent connection between Fosamax and the disease as early as the mid 1990s, yet did not change the drug label to warn consumers about potential risks associated with taking their drug. According to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Timothy O’Brien, “Merck had notice through adverse reports starting in 1996.” And the drug company had “thousands of reports” of jawbone loss since.
There are two disturbing issues brought up by this case. If the connection between Fosamax and the death of jawbone tissue is true (which seems to be the case citing the “thousands of reports”) then Merck did in fact release a drug that can cause severe harm to its users. This is itself a dire mistake, however more troubling is the company’s alleged ignorance or denial of the facts concerning their drug, which if true resulted in the most gross display of negligence: Keeping the drug label unchanged while thousands of reports surfaced in a span of around 9 years (Merck changed their label in 2005, however the plaintiffs claim that again the company did not sufficiently warn consumers about the drug’s risks.)
Making a mistake is bad business; however refusing to face the facts and at least warn consumers about the risks associated with one’s product is a shameful display of apathy towards the well being of others. Many drugs have potential side effects, but devastatingly dangerous conditions that could result from the use of a drug have to be made clear. If Merck did in fact know about the connection between Fosamax and the death of jawbone tissue, yet did not change the drug label to clarify this issue, negligence is just scratching the surface of this company’s problems.
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