JAMA Joins the Fear Mongers

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  • 09/21/2006

JAMA just released a study ahead of print publication on COX-2 drugs entitled Adverse Effects of Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors on Renal and Arrhythmia Events: Meta-analysis of Randomized Trials. It is accompanied by an editorial from David Graham who cheerfully reminds us that the FDA is there to protect the public not corporate profits….

By now everyone knows the risks associated with taking COX-2 drugs. There is a whole cottage industry of so-called researchers who do nothing but recycle and reprocess earlier studies - good, bad and indifferent — on COX-2s designed to show how likely they are (take your pick, hazard ratio, risk ratio…can anyone tell the damn difference in the media) to have heart problems. And the studies keep on coming despite the mounting evidence that risk is associated with age, illness and genetic variations that metabolize drugs. But you don’t know any of this because the good folks at JAMA are not in the business of publishing such studies. Don’t generate enough media attention which in turn drives demands for reprints which are the bread and butter of JAMA’s business. And JAMA has to compete with NEJM for headlines so they are inclined to run with studies that can show quickly and with data easy to distill into a press release how dangerous drugs are or how dangerous drug advertising is. To call THAT hypocritical is too mild a term since both publications depend on drug ads and reprints for their survival.

In any event, when JAMA weighed with yet another warning about COX-2 drugs I was curious to know if it had published any findings about the products benefits or its risks relative to others NSAIDS or research that sought to put the risks and benefits in perspective.

JAMA published one of the original studies raising red flags about the increase in cardiovasular events back 2001. But since then, it has failed to shed little light on the relative risks and benefits of COX-2s or how they might fit into the pantheon of products.

For example recently

Another meta-analysis showed that high doses of two of the NSAIDs studied, diclofenac and ibuprofen, were associated with a similar increase in the risk of vascular events to COX 2 inhibitors, although the risks of high doses of another NSAID, naproxen, were smaller.

A recent study found that NSAID-associated GI complications and death have been decreasing since 1992, which we believe can be attributed to several factors: use of lower-dose NSAIDs; decreasing prevalence of H. pylori; increasing use of proton-pump inhibitors; and the introduction of NSAIDs with greater GI safety, such as coxibs

Harris and colleagues studied the use of celecoxib (Celebrex), rofecoxib (Vioxx), regular aspirin, low-dose aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen among 323 women with breast cancer from 1999-2004.
studied the use of celecoxib (Celebrex), rofecoxib (Vioxx), regular aspirin, low-dose aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen among 323 women with breast cancer from 1999-2004.

They compared the results with those from a control group of 649 cancer-free women matched for age, race and county of residence.

They discovered that women who used NSAIDs on a regular basis had less breast cancer. Specifically, they found that those who used celecoxib or rofecoxib for at least two years appeared to benefit the most, experiencing a 71 percent reduction in risk of breast cancer. Ibuprofen use over the same period was associated with a 64 percent reduction, while regular aspirin offered a 51 percent reduction in risk of the disease.

On the other hand, acetaminophen, which has a negligible effect upon COX-2 activity, and low-dose aspirin provided no significant change in the risk of breast cancer.

This case control study supports clinical trials which have found that COX-2 drugs work against estrogen receptors.

I could go on, but you get the drift: By now we all know that coxibs have some elevated risk for heart problems for some small percentage of people and while we have an idea who they still often got the drug and in any event their risk for heart problems with other pain killers might be higher or lower. You would think that as one of the flagship medical journals JAMA could take a more responsible position on the risks and benefits of medicines. But in an age where David Graham is a media star and hype sells reprints, that is asking way too much.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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