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HEALTH REPORT – Safety Questions About Drugs - 2004-12-21

Broadcast: December 22, 2004

I’m Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Several pain medicines in the United States have been linked to an increase in heart attacks and strokes. Pfizer Drug Company says a new study shows that high levels of Celebrex increase the risk of heart attack. Celebrex is a popular pain medicine for people who suffer from the bone disease arthritis.

The company says it will continue to sell Celebrex. But, it will halt all media advertisements about the drug. The company also says it will continue to market Celebrex directly to doctors. Sales people from drug companies often give free supplies of medicines to doctors. Doctors often give them to their patients.

A recent study has also raised safety questions about the pain medicine naproxen, sold as Aleve. A study by the National Institutes of Health says the drug can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The Bayer Group drug company makes Aleve. People can buy the drug in stores without an order or prescription from their doctor. Patients can also take a prescription form of the drug.

The United States Food and Drug Administration says it is too early to say what action might be taken on Celebrex and Aleve. The agency can legally remove, or recall, a harmful product from the marketplace. Or a drug company can withdraw a product. This happened in September when Merck and Company stopped selling its popular arthritis pain medicine called Vioxx. A study by Merck showed that heart attacks were almost two times as common among Vioxx users as among those who did not take the drug.

The recall of Vioxx has led to criticism about the F.D.A. Richard Graham is a drug safety expert with the agency. Last month, he told a Senate committee that the F.D.A. poorly supervised the approval of Vioxx. Doctor Graham said his agency denied evidence that Vioxx was unsafe. He also said the F.D.A. is unwilling to admit possible safety problems with drugs that it has already approved.

Safety concerns about Vioxx, Celebrex and Aleve may lead doctors to consider another form of pain treatment. Two new studies show that traditional Chinese acupuncture eased the suffering of people with pain in their knees caused by arthritis. Acupuncture involves placing thin needles in the skin at special parts of the body.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jill Moss. I’m Gwen Outen.