Making Wise Medical Decisions is Not Bruce Jenner’s Forte

It’s too early to gauge the amount of damage one-time Olympic hero Bruce Jenner’s garish public self-mutilation will inflict on our already morally battered society, but we do have a body count for another prominent manipulation he was actively involved in, a performance the mainstream media is making sure not to remind anyone of as it celebrates this man’s current personal destruction.

An estimated 55,000 people died from heart attacks and strokes after using the pain pill Vioxx at the turn of the twenty-first century, according to FDA drug safety officials.

The deaths should not have come as a surprise to the drug’s manufacturer, Merck, for it knew as early as 2000 that studies showed serious risks of lethal side effects associated with the drug. Yet Vioxx wasn’t pulled off the market until Sept. 30, 2004. Two million Americans were taking it by that time.

That so many people were consuming this deadly drug was in large part due to a historically unprecedented marketing campaign by the pharmaceutical company.

 

A 2001 New York Times article reports:

Merck spent $160.8 million [in 2000] to promote Vioxx to consumers—more than PepsiCo spent to advertise Pepsi or Budweiser spent to advertise its beer…..

The result:

With the help of the advertising, Vioxx sales quadrupled to $1.5 billion [in 2000] from about $330 million in 1999.

Playing a key role in this literally fatal deception of the American people was a notorious installment of a television “news” program that today can be held up as an especially shocking example of media dishonesty. Starring in that “news” program: Bruce Jenner.

Just as Jenner’s haughtily-titled “The Interview” with a fawning Diane Sawyer on ABC’s 20/20 in April was presented to the public as a news event, so too was the August, 29, 2000 CNN “Larry King Live” program titled “What’s the Best Way to Combat Arthritis?” aired as a journalistic venture.

Jenner, former Olympic figure skating hero Dorothy Hamill and aging actor Robert Culp all appeared on King’s show, along with a Dr. John Klippel, who was representing a group known as The Arthritis Foundation. They were all there to discuss pain-relief solutions for older Americans suffering from arthritis.

Jenner and Hamill at this time were both paid representatives for Merck. With interesting terminology, this fact was smoothed over by host King as a “coming out” moment for the two former Olympic darlings:

Tonight, for the first time, Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner announces osteoarthritis nearly ruined his life. Hear how he survived the crippling disease.

Plus, Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill shares her struggle with the same disease, a condition that affects 20 million Americans. […]

Both Mr. Jenner and Ms. Hamill are kind of coming out tonight to discuss this disease, they will be touring in September on behalf of the Merck company for a drug they take.

From the get-go, Jenner unhesitatingly expressed in personal terms his great success story with Vioxx:

[A]nd so for me, as I grow older, you know, hit the big 50 this year, and it really was getting more and more difficult, mainly because of my knee. I have had two knee surgeries on my right knee, that was my jumping leg that I jumped off for years and years. Then all of a sudden it happened in my shoulder, my shoulder started giving me a problem.

And so, basically what I did is I couldn’t live with the pain any longer, I mean, I had to start giving up sports. I mean, I love to play basketball, play tennis, I couldn’t do that any longer because every time I played, my knee—it would take me two weeks to recover from it. So what I did is I went to my doctor and said, hey, what are the solutions out there, what can I do? And he put on me the drug Vioxx, and it seemed to—it’s helped the problem.

KING: It helped?

JENNER: “In a very positive way.”

He went on to state that “Vioxx was the solution for me” to his arthritic pain.

Later in the interview, Jenner veers from his corporate training and declares that the drug “heals.” Such claims made by a non-medical professional could have gotten Merck in trouble with the FDA.

So Merck wrote FDA official Thomas Abrams a letter that further reveals the extent of the corporation’s control over the ostensibly neutral television news program.

In defending itself to Abrams, the company wrote that “Merck drafted detailed media guides to provide the celebrities … with specific direction on what to say and what not to say in the context of media interviews.”

The company then tried to downgrade the impact Jenner’s misleading comments about healing may have had on “millions of viewers” watching the program by quibbling over the numbers.

“Merck noted that on average, fewer than 1 million people see the program,” it wrote, adding that “Merck received the program’s Nielson ratings for that date, estimating that 1.5 million people saw the program.”

But it is the timeline of events the company added to the end of the letter that is most noteworthy. In it, one can see the concern Merck had as “Larry King Live” decided not to use a doctor paid by the corporation as its medical guest.

Under the heading “August 29, mid-day,” Merck writes that:

Larry King Live indicates that they would prefer a physician other than Dr. [Jim] Andrews because Dr. Andrews is compensated by Merck. They do not yet decline Dr. Andrews because they had not yet identified another physician to participate. Throughout the day, Merck continues to advocate for Dr. Andrews’ participation.

In the “late afternoon” of that same day, “Merck learns that Larry King Live contacted Dr. Jack Klippel of the Arthritis Foundation to participate while on vacation, and that Dr. Klippel accepted the interview request.”

The timeline notes that Merck urgently tried to contact Dr. Klippel via phone and email about the interview, but was apparently unable to reach him. Left unsaid by the company is that it never really had to worry about the man in the first place. He was already financially tied-in to Merck through his foundation.

A 2006 Philadelphia Inquirer article titled “Patient Groups have close ties to drug firms” reports that, during his appearance on “Larry King Live,” Dr. Klippel “said nothing about his group’s getting at least $500,000 from Merck and $1.1 million from its rival, Pfizer Inc., the previous year, according to TV transcripts and foundation reports.”

The Inquirer reported that donations by pharmaceutical companies to such foundations “often rise with promotional spending as a drug hits the market and fall when sales ebb.”

As for Dr. Klippel’s foundation, the paper reports that:

Donations from Merck and Pfizer Inc. to the Arthritis Foundation more than doubled, to at least $1.65 million combined, in 2000 as they launched Vioxx and Celebrex. The donations fell below $375,000 by 2004, when safety fears had flattened sales, foundation reports show.

And the donations were anything but altruistic, the Inquirer reports:

Merck explicitly wove the foundation into sales strategies. A 2001 internal memo, disclosed in product-liability trials, shows that Merck sought to use the foundation’s pain-management program to ‘demonstrate additional benefits’ of its products.

And so this Dr. Klippel, presenting himself as an unbiased medical professional representing a health foundation committed to fighting arthritis, when asked by Larry King, “What about Vioxx, Doctor?” replied:

Oh, yes, I think drugs like Vioxx—those are, as was pointed out, are prescription drugs, they actually come from some understanding of what causes the pain and the inflammation in osteoarthritis, and they’re a new safer way of using an anti- inflammatory drug. So this [is] an example of what we believe is a real advance.

Fifty-five thousand people died from using this drug.

As can be seen from the show’s transcript, Jenner had his lines to recite in the Arthritis Foundation farce:

Dorothy and I will be traveling around the United States talking to people about what we call “everyday victories.” That’s our campaign. We’re looking for people who had great results with the product Vioxx. We are also doing a lot to help support the Arthritis Foundation, and it’s really going to be a lot of fun.

I feel like I have had tremendous results with Vioxx, and very positive results, and, you know, I would like people to know, and our job is to educate people, tell them to get in there and see their doctor.

Two weeks after the “Larry King Live” appearance, Merck launched its “Everyday Victories” marketing campaign, starring Jenner and Hammil. A letter endorsed by the two celebrities that came with a Vioxx brochure reads:

VIOXX has been extensively studied in large clinical trials. Commonly reported side effects included upper respiratory infection, diarrhea, nausea, and high blood pressure.

No information whatsoever about the increased risk of stroke or heart attack.

This despite the fact that, as the New York Times reported in 2004:

The data that first alerted Merck to the heart risks with Vioxx arrived in March 2000, derived from a study of 8,100 rheumatoid arthritis patients begun in January 1999. In the study, called Vigor, patients were treated with either Vioxx or naproxen, an older pain reliever. While Vioxx reduced the risk of internal bleeding, it also appeared to raise the incidence of heart problems. Five times as many patients taking Vioxx had heart attacks as those taking naproxen.

After the horrible truth of the dangers of Vioxx had its own public “coming out” in sensational fashion, Jenner expressed no feelings of personal responsibility for his role in promoting the lethal drug.

In a 2004 interview with ESPN.com, Jenner said, “Dorothy (Hamill) is not a scientist and I’m not a scientist. … We had no idea what was happening behind the scenes. They never told us.”

Oh. He didn’t know.

Tens of thousands of people died after taking this drug that Jenner said on national television provided healing. But he didn’t know there were deadly repercussions from taking the drug when he put his name on a brochure telling people the common side effects were quite mild.

However he prefers to think of his own culpability in this deadly charade, one can see from this sordid affair that Jenner has prior experience being the face of a grotesque deception perpetrated on the American people.

And since he admits he “is not a scientist” and had “no idea what was happening behind the scenes” when he stood before the American people on national television and told them that something he had tried himself “heals” when it in fact kills, is it not fair to ask if Jenner once again doesn’t really know the science behind his latest medical adventure?

As he begins another very public “health” campaign already replete with photoshop fraud and canned “news outlet” complicity, an effort that even shamefully targets young children and adolescents, may we ask if he is aware that Dr. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital, reports that the suicide rate for so-called “transgendered people” who had “reassignment surgery” is 20 times higher than the rate for people not afflicted by this psychological illness?

Is he aware that when the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force surveyed more than 7,000 “transgender” people in 2010 they found an astonishing 41 percent of them had attempted suicide?

Is he aware of the fact that up until December 2012 the American Psychiatric Association classified those having a “gender identity disorder” as mentally ill?

Some may see it as a form of justice or a neat sort of symmetry that the very forces Jenner consorted with 15 years ago when he took the Merck money are now fully supporting his current self-destruction, using the same hackneyed honeyed tones as they do so.

The Merck Manual is a diagnostic medical textbook put out by the for-profit corporation. On the website for the manual there can be found an article gleefully promoting Jenner’s descent into madness, using wording eerily similar to the “everyday victories”-type jargon once used to promote Vioxx.

“Once I began, I knew it was right. It was like having a pair of shoes that don’t fit, and finally getting a pair that fit. About a year later I changed my name, my documents, everything at work. And it all fell into place organically. The discomfort was just gone,” one so-called “transgender” person writes.

I can just roll with the punches … I can just brush things off. When I was younger, this was all just unthinkable. It was unobtainable and unreachable. Yes, times are changing, of course, and there’s been a tremendous amount of progress over the years.

But I suppose I’ve changed as well. I’m less sensitive. I’m more comfortable. And I’m very grateful and amazed that I got to where I now am. I’m finally able to be myself.

Commonly reported side effects include … well, what do you know? This time, they aren’t even mentioned.

Joseph Schaeffer

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Joseph Schaeffer is the former managing editor of The Washington Times National Weekly.

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