On December 17, 2004, Pfizer announced that it found an increased risk of heart attack with patients taking its top selling drug Celebrex. The increased risk of heart attack was reported in a long term cancer prevention study conducted by the National Cancer Institute on behalf of Pfizer. The study halted the use of Celebrex after discovering that patients taking 400mg to 800mg of Celebrex daily had 2.5 times greater risk of experiencing major heart problems.
Celebrex belongs to a class of painkillers known as cox-2 inhibitors, popularly used for arthritis and other painful ailments. Another cox-2 painkiller, Vioxx, was removed from the market in September 2004 after various studies showed two to four times the risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems. Since the removal of Vioxx, scientists and doctors have questioned the effectiveness and safety of other cox-2 inhibitors, including Celebrex. Many patients who have taken Vioxx have also taken Celebrex.
Vanderbilt University epidemiologist and drug safety expert, Dr. Marie Griffin said the new Celebrex findings are evidence that all these cox-2 drugs have similar risks. However, she noted that the halted study was testing an 400 to 800 milligram dose of Celeberx, which is four times the usual dose and that the safety problem with Celebrex may only apply to those high levels. Dr. Griffin advised that such drugs should be avoided by people with heart disease. Other doctors have recommended switching to safer, nonprescription medicines such as Advil to treat their pain.