While the health plans of many senior citizens were thrown into
upheaval by the recall of popular arthritis medication Vioxx,
students also have been affected and troubled by the drug’s
negative health effects.

“It’s kind of scary,” said David Curtis about
the Vioxx drug recall in late September. Curtis, an LSA sophomore
who has suffered from inflammatory arthritis for a few years, is
one of more than two million Americans who were prescribed
Vioxx.

Merck and Co. recalled the drug, commonly prescribed for
patients with arthritis or other painful conditions, last month
after information was released that it increased the risk for heart
attack and stroke, according to a Merck press release.

Mark Fendrick, an internal medicine professor, said many college
students were using Vioxx. “Due to the widespread marketing
of the drug, it was very common for young people to use
Vioxx,” Fendrick said. He said he also believes Vioxx was
frequently prescribed to college athletes to relieve pain.

Researchers are not sure why Vioxx causes an increased risk for
cardiovascular disease, but most experts believe that the drug
increases blood clotting.

Vioxx belongs to the family of Cox-II inhibitors, which is part
of a larger group of medicines called non-steroidal,
anti-inflammatory drugs. Cox-II inhibitors, Fendrick said, are more
beneficial to people who have stomach problems or ulcers than other
non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Curtis was prescribed Vioxx for his inflammatory arthritis and
carpal tunnel syndrome. He was surprised when he found out the
risks. “It’s interesting. I don’t think my doctor
said anything about heart attacks or strokes,” Curtis
said.

He stopped taking Vioxx after nearly a year because he felt the
drug quit working. “It did the job for a while, but my
symptoms started getting more and more severe.”

He eventually switched to Celebrex and then Bextra, which are
now the only other Cox-II inhibitors available. The main
differences between the Celebrex and Bextra are their chemical
composition, dosages and possible side effects.

Curtis stopped taking Vioxx before the recall.

While Celebrex and Bextra are now the only Cox-II inhibitors
available, Fendrick is hesitant to recommend the drugs to people
with cardiovascular risks. These two drugs may not be any safer
than Vioxx, Fendrick warned.

“At this point in time, I personally recommend people at
risk for high cholesterol, heart attack or stroke stay away from
other Cox-II inhibitors until safety is established,”
Fendrick said.

Since the recall, Merck’s stock fell considerably, closing
at $45.07 the day before the recall and $30.74 yesterday, a total
loss of $14.33 in the past 11 days.

Both Celebrex and Bextra are made by Pfizer, which has a
research and development location in Ann Arbor. Although Pfizer is
now the only producer of Cox-II inhibitors, its stock has rising
just 13 cents since Vioxx was taken off the market on Sept. 30.

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