By Martha Rosenberg
There’s nothing like a celebrity endorsement to move a drug off the shelves and into the nation’s medicine cabinets. TV personality Joan Lunden and former baseball star Mike Piazza stumped for the allergy pill Claritin, ice skater Dorothy Hamill and track star Bruce Jenner for the pain pill Vioxx, and Sen. Bob Dole, of course, pushed Viagra.
Celebrities even pushed psychiatric drugs like NASCAR figure Bobby Labonte who promoted the antidepressant Wellbutrin XL.
But what happens when things go awry? Did Dorothy Hamill know that Vioxx doubled the risk of heart attacks in users? Did the model Lauren Hutton know that hormone replacement therapy causes increased breast cancer and heart attacks when she shilled for it? Does actress Sally Field know that bone drugs like Boniva are linked to esophageal cancer, jawbone death and the very fractures they are supposed to prevent?
Some of Pharma’s most aggressive advertising is to convince parents their children’s minor sniffles or wheezing are imminent asthma and need treatment. Merck used Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Peter Vanderkaay and NBA kid clubs to sell the asthma drug, Singulair despite its links to suicide and emotional disturbances in children, according to Fox News. Merck also partnered with the American Academy of Pediatrics and Scholastic to sell Singulair, both of which parents consider neutral organizations not Pharma mouthpieces.