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December 13, 2005

DRIVING HOME FROM TAKING THE INSTADAUGHTER TO SCHOOL, I was listening to Wall Street Journal Radio and noted two back-to-back stories: One about the Vioxx litigation, and one about widespread sales of the "herbal appetite suppressant" Hoodia despite universally dishonest label information about dosage, and no evidence that it's safe. My thought was that Merck should have just sold Vioxx as a "nutritional supplement" and everything would have been fine. . . .

I haven't really followed the litigation closely, though having taken Vioxx myself on numerous occasions, and having known plenty of others who did it's hard for me to take some of the claims seriously. All drugs have dangers after all. But I certainly share Henry Miller's worries:

Regulators’ increasing sensitivity to safety concerns -- sometimes at the expense of the availability of essential drugs -- may have become contagious: Drug manufacturers, too, seem to have begun to “err on the side of safety” to a degree that causes safe and effective drugs to be taken off the market voluntarily.

Read the whole thing. Risk / reward here is asymmetrical: If excessive litigation causes people to die because treatments are taken off the market, there's nobody to sue. Something's broken.