Sign The Guestbook
View The Guestbook
Archived Guestbook
Submit An Article
Staff List
Privacy Policy


Weekly Features
The X Files
Xavier Hermosillo is the President of, a national Crisis Communications, Marketing, and Management firm he founded 23 years ago. He is a former political chief of staff, an award-winning reporter and photographer, and a former radio talk show host and TV commentator in Los Angeles. He has co-founded two publicly-traded companies where he served as a member of the Board of Directors and as the Senior Vice President of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications. He has also served as a Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission on police officer discipline cases, and holds degrees in Administration of Justice and Business and Communications. He can be reached at

Sometimes it is easy to forget how deadly serious the news business can be and how dependent Americans are on us for accuracy and the truth.

A handful of important topics came to mind this week as I considered how easy it is to under-estimate the power of the media on the everyday lives of the people in our audiences.

The most important one that comes to mind is the recent story that the arthritis medicine, Vioxx, has been taken off the market by its manufacturer, Merck & Co., because of studies indicating it may be a contributing factor to heart attacks and strokes. Specifically, the company said it was withdrawing the drug following a review of data from a three-year colon cancer trial. They say that in this study, there was an increased relative risk for confirmed cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, beginning after 18 months of treatment in the patients taking Vioxx compared to those taking a placebo, Merck said in a press release.

When you are a healthy journalist, or a young one, this story can seem like no big thing and in fact, it could seem rather boring to the average scribe. Arthritis? Heart attacks? Strokes? Old people's diseases, right? Wrong. You would be surprised how many young people, including little children, suffer from painful arthritis. Young athletes are a growing crop of arthritis suffers, both boys and girls, because of the pressure of competitive sports and the push to play, no matter what the athlete's physical condition might be.

This brings me to the point of how the media is covering the Vioxx story, and how the media is also responding to claims that similar drugs like Celebrex or Bextra may also be problem prescription pills.

How did all this happen? Were the Vioxx test results to the FDA dummied-up, falsified? How long ago did Merck really know they had a problem and what was the decision-making process that led to not taking the drug off the market sooner? Was this one of those Ford Pinto capers where a decision was made that it was better to let a few folks die and pay off their survivors in court, versus doing a recall that could save some lives?

For those of you too young to understand what I am talking about, here's a primer. About 30 years or so ago, many people died when the Ford Pintos they were driving or riding in were rear-ended and the gas tanks exploded. It turns out Ford knew about the problems for some time, but a bean counter did the math and figured out it was cheaper to pay off the families of a couple of hundred dead Pinto victims than pay for a recall of all the dangerous cars and repair them. In other words, it was more cost efficient to pay for dead people than to fix the bad Pintos. What a business decision!!

It's one of the ugly tales of the corporate world, where the almighty dollar IS the bottom line, above human lives, above all else. I'm not suggesting Merck has done that, but the question still has to be asked because worldwide sales of Vioxx totaled $2.55 billion last year. Since the introduction of the drug in 1999, more than 91 million Vioxx prescriptions have been written in the United States alone. Someone has to ask the tough questions about Merck's motives and who better to ask those types of questions than the media.

Ninety One MILLION prescriptions!! Have you ever wondered what prompts a doctor to recommend one medicine over another? Does he/she just reach into the medicine sample drawer and recommend whatever comes up in his/her hand? Hardly. Doctors are pitched medicines by cute young chicks and cute guys. The science of marketing medicine is more about the science of hormones and pheromones between pharmaceutical reps and the M.D. than anything else in too many cases.

When you get old enough to pay regular visits to multiple doctors, as I have, you learn some things you never knew nor ever wanted to know about the health field. I have spoken with these pill reps because I see them making their "cold calls" and I feel for them. I have never been a good cold caller and I empathize with them. They have, in turn, told me some of the tricks of the trade, the dress codes, the "doctor etiquette," the whole nine yards. Knowing the chemical technicalities of the drugs they peddle is a given. But as we have come to see in many products, it's the clean smile, the wink, the cleavage, the spiked hair, whatever, that closes the sale.

I tell you all this because I often wonder, and question, why one of my medical professionals may prescribe a certain cure for me. What makes a doctor decide to tell a patient, Vioxx versus Celebrex? The drug makers have it down to a system and in the very competitive world of prescription drugs, there is no margin for error.

The most important point here is that your average audience member who hears the Vioxx story is immediately going to freak and wonder if a heart attack or stroke is right around the corner. For those of us who have arthritis, we never considered the pain reliever the doctor gave us could lead to the final curtain call. After all, whether it was Vioxx or Celebrex, we took it to take away the joint pain. Nothing more, nothing less. People RELY on the media to get the facts, not conjecture or corporate spin. JUST THE FACTS, PLEASE! My life depends on it.

It is not easy. But interview a few local doctors and ask them what causes them to prescribe one drug over the other. Ask them what Celebrex users should do now that Vioxx has been pulled and there are suggestions that ANY "Cox inhibitors" (used in Vioxx, Celebrex, and Bextra) are the problem. Are there alternatives to Cox inhibitors? These are important and very timely questions because the people who take these drugs sometimes cannot even walk without the pain relief they receive from these drugs. They can't afford to wait a few months for the next New England Journal of Medicine study or an article in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) to tell them if they can go to the store, visit a friend, or simply go to work. Pain relief is a "here and now" kind of issue and that's why your ACCUARTE reporting is so key to Americans on such a major story.

An internet search will tell you that "Pfizer (the manufacturer) says Celebrex is safe for long-term use." Another site tells you that "Celebrex is safe unless you are allergic to celecoxib, aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, sulfas, or any other drugs." Wow, you need a dictionary to figure that one out and a lie detector to feel safe about what you swallow in the name of pain relief.

I asked my doctor if I should keep taking the Celebrex he prescribed for the pain in my overloaded knees because of what I was reading and hearing from the media. He didn't hesitate to tell me it was the best choice for me, and that despite what I was hearing in the media, there were tests done years ago on the safety of the drug and he had decided it was a better choice for me than Vioxx. He told me his research was a key factor in his decision-making on my prescription.

Just to seal my satisfaction in my doctor's decision-making process, and to validate for myself that he was right and too many media reports I was seeing were wrong, I asked him about the Pfizer and Merck pharmaceutical reps he deals with from time to time. He told me he thinks one is a "wannabe cop" working his way through the college and the other guy is a "biology geek." Neither description sounds like someone that could trick, seduce, or unduly influence my doctor into prescribing one drug over another because of tricks of the trade. And "too much cleavage" doesn't seem to be a factor here either.