Further fallout from the Vioxx health scare today hit the headlines as it emerged that the withdrawal of the drug may have a huge and previously unforseen impact on the federal health budget.
"Truth is, we'd counted on Vioxx being generally available to sick people for at least another five to seven years", said one health official who only agreed to discuss the drug on condition that she not be named.
"The way things are, the best estimate is that Vioxx will only cause about about sixty thousand deaths from heart failure. We had planned our budget based on it being at least three times as many, 250 thou. minimum. This is really going to leave a hole in our finances, we may have to resubmit the whole health care plan. All because some idiot at the FDA went and forced through an early withdrawal. The FDA are supposed to be more responsible than that. Someone should be fired."
Asked whether it shouldn't be the job of healthcare planning to save patients' lives rather than kill them, our source disagreed. "You never really save lives in healthcare, you only ever keep someone alive so that they can die of something else. And sometimes you think: Why bother? Our responsibility is to ensure the maximum quality of life per year per tax dollar spent, and the fact is that Vioxx was a damned good painkiller. It worked, and gave a lot of very sick people a better quality of life, right to the end, with no side effects at all. Other than, you know, the fatal heart attack stuff. But if I was going to have a heart attack, I'd much rather have it on Vioxx."
"Vioxx was excellent problem solver. We had all these long-term sick who were a drain on resources, and we'd put them on Vioxx, and they'd be happy, and you'd chalk them up as sorted, then they'd have the heart attack and you were on to the next patient. Everyone was happy. But now the FDA have gotten involved, and gone public, and they've just caused a lot of needless anxiety and distress to people."
"People go on about Vioxx killing people, but nobody points out that this also reduces the incidence of cancer, Alzheimers, and all sorts of other distressing and expensive conditions that affect people in later life. We were starting to finally hit all sorts of disease prevention targets for the first time, thanks to Vioxx. This will set us back years."
"And it's not just the elderly, you also have to think of other key groups, like the Iraq war veterans. Ongoing health care for the badly wounded was expected to push the total cost for the war up to about 200 billion dollars, but with targetted Vioxx prescriptions we could maybe have knocked a third off that. I could go on and on. This was the best drug we ever had, and withdrawing it was not just socially irreponsible, it's downright criminal - that money could have gone on much better things. Nicer office chairs, for starters."
An emergency review of Viox and related compounds is underway this week.
(This report was sponsored by the Harold Shipman Society for the Elimination of Preventable Disease )