Alan Reynolds

 Depending on which of two recent studies you may have read about, you might suppose the pain reliever Alleve (naproxen) will either reduce or increase the risk of heart attacks.

 On Dec. 13, The Financial Times reported, "Widely used anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen could help reduce the risk of heart attacks, while abruptly halting the usage increases the risks, according to a large UK study." On Dec. 21, The Washington Post dished out the opposite advice, noting that, "federal officials announced that naproxen, a painkiller sold by prescription and also over the counter as Aleve, might increase people's risk of having a heart attack."

 Between those dates, my periodontist prescribed naproxen. What the press described as a "quick review of the data" in the United States may have suggested to equally hasty readers that I should stop using naproxen or risk a heart attack. But the larger British study said to stop taking naproxen would risk a heart attack. So, I decided to take a closer look at the U.S. version.

 It turns out that in a study of about 2,400 older people, 70 of those using naproxen had experienced some "cardiovascular event," such as a stroke or heart attack, though only two or three died. The number 70 was said to be twice the rate among those taking a placebo. Press reports promptly ascribed that minor difference (1.5 percent) to the added risk of taking a large daily dose of naproxen for three years.

 For all we know, the difference might be because those taking naproxen ate fatter foods than most other participants, exercised less, were older, had worse family histories or smoked more cigarettes. Nobody said these other risk factors were properly taken into account, so the quick review lacks statistical credibility.

 Even in the case of Vioxx, nobody claims it is dangerous if the normal 25 mg dose is taken for only a couple of weeks, as I would still like to do for an arthritic big toe on vacations (because I'm allergic to Celebrex).

 I am now denied the opportunity to use Vioxx responsibly, not to eliminate even the slightest health risk (which is impossible), but in the hope of reducing litigation risk. Typing "Vioxx" into Google generates about 14 million hits, mostly ads inviting people to share in the fabulous riches from class-action suits. One says, "Vioxx lawsuit is the easiest way to make you a millionaire."

Alan Reynolds

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