Controversial Ad Implies Celebrex Is As Safe As OTC Painkillers

A new ad for Celebrex, a prescription painkiller related to Vioxx, has come under fire for implying that Celebrex is as safe as non-prescription painkillers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve.) A consumer group has written a letter to the FDA requesting that they ban the ad, claiming that it contains “false or misleading statements.”

“The overall purpose of the ad is to make it appear, contrary to scientific evidence, that the cardiovascular dangers of Celebrex are not greater than those of any of the other Nsaid painkillers,” the letter said, referring to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. “Further, it asserts that certain gastrointestinal problems are, if anything, less frequent with Celebrex than with two popular over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers.”

The ad, which is two-and-a-half minutes long (Pfizer was the only sponsor of the program on which it aired), can be viewed at Celebrex.com. The ad marks Celebrex’s return to advertising after a two year hiatus following Vioxx’s withdrawal from the market due to dangerous cardiovascular side-effects.

It’s hard to see how Pfizer can defend the ad; it’s pretty obviously meant to suggest that Celebrex is as safe or nearly as safe as Motrin and Aleve—even if it doesn’t come right out and say it.

From Celebrex’s site:

Lately, there has been some confusion about arthritis pain treatments. It is important to know that there are risks with all pain medicines, including the 3 most common NSAIDs: CELEBREX, naproxen, and ibuprofen. In fact,the FDA requires all these NSAID pain relievers, including CELEBREX, to have the same cardiovascular warning.

Far creepier is the screen shot we took of the add, which shows a teacup created from what appears to be phrase: “the chance of having a heart attack or stroke… illegible…ibuprofen or naproxen may be the same as Celebrex.” Pfizer’s spokesperson claims the ad does not compare Celebrex to over-the-counter drugs. —MEGHANN MARCO

Celebrex Commercial Draws Criticism [NYT]