Some Patients Sticking By Celebrex

New prescriptions for Pfizer Inc.'s arthritis drug Celebrex plunged 56 percent for the week ending Dec. 24, after news the drug may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

And on Monday, a consumer group petitioned the FDA today to pull the arthritis drugs Celebrex and Bextra off drug store shelves just like Vioxx was. New studies also out Monday agreed with findings that these and similar drugs could trigger heart attacks and strokes. They also question whether they were over-prescribed to people who didn't need them just to reduce gastro-intestinal problems associated with older, cheaper drugs.

But as CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports, some doctors are sticking with Celebrex, especially to avoid life-threatening stomach problems that can come with other alternatives.

For Auli Peterson, Celebrex melts away joint pain.

Her pain was worth more than "the risks."

Even knowing it could pose heart risks, she's sticking with Celebrex to avoid stomach damage from over-the-counter Ibuprofen pain relievers like Advil or Motrin. That was the whole idea behind Celebrex and similar medicines.

"They were developed not necessarily because they were more effective, but they were easier on the stomach," says Dr. David Borenstein.

But is Celebrex really easier on the stomach?

The Journal of the American Medical Association said so four years ago. A six-month study paid for by the makers of Celebrex, showed fewer ulcers and stomach troubles than Ibuprofen. Celebrex's reputation was locked in and global sales climbed to $3 billion.

But in fact, a lot - like half the study - was left out of that glowing journal article.

"The truth is it was not a six-month study, it was a 12-month study," says Dr. John Abramson of Harvard Medical School.

Abramson says that unreported second half of the study told an entirely different story, one most doctors never heard.

"In the second six months, the patients who took Celebrex had far more serious gastrointestinal complications than patients who took the older drugs," says Abramson.

FDA advisors agreed. When they reviewed the whole Celebrex study, all 12 months of it, they said Celebrex could not be marketed as better for the stomach. But that news never made big headlines.

Pfizer, which makes Celebrex, wouldn't agree to an interview. Neither would the FDA. Dr. David Borenstein is a Pfizer consultant and conducts paid research for Pfizer and other drug companies. He insists Celebrex's stomach or "G.I." advantage is found in his research and his patients.

"When patients have described stomach troubles, I've used medicines like Celebrex in those patients and have found that the medicine can cause less 'G.I.' distress and can, in fact, be quite effective," says Borenstein.

Patients in pain only know what works.

Peterson says she "would like to continue Celebrex at the lowest possible dose.

But critics who believe Celebrex isn't gentler on the stomach say doctors shouldn't chance a heart risk by prescribing it.
  • Jaime Holguin

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