Duty to Warn

By Gary G. Kohls, MD – December 11, 2018 (3,141 words)

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“A number of other drug companies paid over a billion dollars in punitive settlements over that same span. Below is a list of seven of the most expensive ones. That list doesn’t include the dozens of other Big Pharma corporations that paid out lesser, “just-the-cost-of-doing-business” payments that were only in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

  • GlaxoSmithKline: $7.63 billion
  • Pfizer: $3.46 billion
  • Johnson & Johnson: $2.82 billion
  • Abbott: $1.82 billion
  • Eli Lilly: $1.71 billion
  • Teva: $1.47 billion
  • Novartis: $1.23 billion”

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One of the oldest and biggest pharmaceutical companies on the planet is New Jersey-based Merck & Company (known outside the US as MSD – short for Merck, Sharp & Dohme). Merck was once a German company (now international, with its head offices in the US) that is, technically speaking, 350 years old this year. Given its recent stock prices, it is having a happy birthday year ($55 per share last spring and $80 per share a few days ago).

Merck & Co was born when Friedrich Jacob Merck bought a small apothecary shop in Darmstadt, Germany in 1668. Friedrich’s shop sold the usual items of his era, including tobacco, wine, spices, herbal “remedies” and any other products that his customers regarded as potentially healing agents. Apothecaries were the precursors of modern-day pharmacies. The owners frequently dispensed medical advice, although they were not licensed physicians.

In 1827 – a century and a half later – one of Friedrich’s heirs, Heinrich Emmanuel Merck, converted the pharmacy into a drug manufacturing facility – and the rest, as they say, is history. Among the first products that Merck manufactured and marketed were the highly-addictive substances cocaine and the two early natural opioids, morphine and codeine. They were all over-the-counter drugs at the time.

Interestingly, Viennese psychiatrist Sigmoid Freud had a Merck connection in that he helped promote their cocaine drug when Sigmund discovered that the drug was a powerful “anti-depressant” (or at least it made him “euphoric” or capable of causing a predictable drug-induced mania). Freud’s support lasted only until the day he realized how addictive Merck’s cocaine turned out to be. More