High price for arthritis relief
By DAWN COHEN
WHEN Ron Proud's arthritis stopped him turning his head to follow the flight of his golf ball he turned for hope to Vioxx, a widely-prescribed anti-inflammatory drug.
The Ballina resident, a former footballer, was recovering from a heart attack, and looked forward to a return to a daily swim.
But two years ago Mr Proud heard rumours the drug he was taking could actually cause heart attacks and blood clots (see story below).
"I threw every pill I had down the toilet," the 65-year-old said.
"I reduced the 24 tablets I took every day to only four. I still can't play golf, but at least I have not had another heart attack."
Introduced in the US in 1999 and marketed internationally, Vioxx was heralded as miraculous pain relief with fewer gastric sideeffects.
In September last year Vioxx was voluntary withdrawn from the market by its manufacturers, Merck, when the link with heart problems was proved.
Two months later research on 25,000 users showed the drug was dangerous at normal doses and after short-term use.
X-ray someone over 50, and 80 per cent will have some form of arthritis, said Ballina general practitioner, Dr Michael Hayter.
With 36 per cent of Ballina's population falling into that category, anti-arthritis drugs are hot sellers in the shire.
Up to 20 per cent of scripts are for arthritic pain, said Mr Steve Garzolini from Richmond River Pharmacist Advice
Mr Garzolini said patients were reassured by drug company claims that other anti-inflammatories were safe.
But Dr Michael Serafin, from The Compounding Chemist in West Ballina, said many of his customers were turning to natural alternatives as a reaction to the bad publicity.
Glucosamine, a shellfish extract approved by Veterans Affairs, is a researched popular alternative commonly used in Ballina, according to Dr Hayter.