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 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]


Edit Your Comment

  1. kerry says:

    For some people Celebrex really is safer than ibuprofin or naproxen. I can’t take regular NSAIDS because they destroy my stomach lining, which is not only very painful but increases my risk of gastric cancer (fun!), so for pain that Tylenol can’t control I have a Celebrex prescription. That stuff is a miracle.

  2. r81984 says:

    What kind of doctor would even prescribe celebrex or viox?

    They do the same as asprin, have crazy side effects or potential for side effects because they have not been tested long term, and cost more because they are new.

    If a doctor prescribes celebrex or viox, FIND A NEW DOCTOR.

  3. r81984 says:


    Celebrex is just an asprin alternative any more effect you get over OTC medication is purely the placebo effect.

  4. kerry says:

    @r81984: I know from experience, lots and lots of experience, that Tylenol does not work for some pain, particularly menstrual cramps. I get the kind of cramps that make me pass out. I also know from experience that aspirin and ibuprofin destroy my stomach. My doctor knows this. I am what is called NSAID sensitive. Celebrex inhibits only cox-2, not both cox-1 and cox-2 like aspirin and ibuprofin. It does not deplete the lining of my stomach. It does, however, get rid of my menstrual cramps. Vioxx, worked, too. I had a prescription for that before it was taken off the market.
    I’m not crazy, and I’m not stupid. It’s not a placebo effect. Tylenol doesn’t work for everything, sometimes a medicine that reduces prostaglandin production is called for, and celebrex is safer for me and other people like me than drugs that inhibit both cox-1 and cox-2, as it doesn’t effect gastric production of prostaglandin.
    Celebrex is unsafe in patients, particularly elderly patients, when taken daily. Taken for acute pain in healthy, young patients (like myself) it does not have increased risk of cardiac effects.

  5. Parsnip says:

    I was put on Celebrex for joint problems when i was 22 (after i was hit by a car on my bike). The doctor said it would be easier on my stomach than Ibuprofen. Two months later I had a bleeding ulcer.

  6. What’s needed is for doctors to do *gasp* tests to make sure that taking a medicine won’t hurt the patient before they take it instead of prescribing someting and then seeing what happens.

    I’ve had doctors tell me that Yasmin can’t/doesn’t cause cramping even though it’s included in the list of side effects that comes in the box.

  7. oldhat says:

    I dunno, I really was the life of the party after a few Miller Genuine Drafts, just like the tv said so.

    Why not give them the benefit of the doubt? What could go wrong, not like somebody is going to die.

    And not like we don’t have the finest doctors in the world to protect us. Well, at least the most expensive. Isn’t that the same thing?

  8. facted says:

    @r81984: Actually, there are patients who should not take Aspirin (or other NSAID’s) such as patients with frequent stomach ulcers for instance. For this segment of the popluation, Celebrex is actually a good drug as it does not cause the same irritation of the GI mucosa. The problem is that there are a lot of patients who are taking medicines like Celebrex without real contraindications to taking regular NSAID’s which are much cheaper. A good portion of this problem is that patients see ad’s on TV and come into doctor’s offices and demand a certain medication. If the doctor doesn’t give it to them, they just go onto the next doctor who will. It’s quite a problem.

  9. facted says:

    @kerry: This is in fact quite true. Tylenol and COX-2 inhibitors (as well as NSAID’s) have very different mechanisms of actions. NSAID’s and Cox-2 help to reduce inflammation which is why they’re very effective for arthritis. In the case of menstrual cramps, prostaglandin release at the time of menstruation causes painful spasm of the uterus, which is muted by the anti-prostaglandin effects of NSAID’s (and Cox-2’s). Not all painkillers are alike.

    Is it true, however, that there has been no study to show the different effects of various NSAID’s (e.g.: motrin vs. aspirin vs. naprosyn etc…)

  10. CumaeanSibyl says:

    Drug issues aside, can I just point out how unbelievably obnoxious that commercial is? Every time you think it might be winding up, it’s off again with the dog and the bike and the voiceover telling you all the different ways Celebrex can kill you…

  11. facted says:

    I’d also like to point out that Celebrex (Celecoxib) does not seem to have similar concerns for inducing clots (e.g. heart attacks and strokes) as do the other COX-2 inhibitors such as Vioxx. There is just a media bandwagon effect against all of the drugs in a certain class (COX-2 inhibitors) even though it is commonly known that some drugs in one class have side effects that other drugs in the same class do not. There is a mounting literature that Celebrex may indeed be as safe as NSAID’s, and given that there is a large patient population that should not be on NSAID’s for one reason or another, it is a good thing to have other options (like Celebrex) available. (this is coming from a future physician who has a significant dislike for pharm. companies…)

    If anyone wants to read up about this:
    JAMA. 2006 Oct 4;296(13):1633-44. Epub 2006 Sep 12.

  12. jamst149 says:

    I certainly have no intention to come on here and defend a drug company, I despise drug companies.


    As a student nurse learning about drugs/pharmacology and also as someone who has psoriatic arthritis who takes celebrex…theres quite a bit of erroneus knee jerk posting/commenting.

    Facted certainly appears to know what he’she is talking about and has some data to back it up to boot.

  13. zl9600 says:

    @jamst149: Agree with you jamst. The fact-bearers always come around and then the pile-on people go away, especially from folks who are critical of those who actually say they take a drug for a reason (thanks, I’ll take my advice from a doctor without the lecture from strange poster on the internets)

    Now talking about wacky commercials, how about the current one for a drug called HUMIRA? Good god? The pretty voice saying “I will be here, blah blah” then the woman looks at you and talks to you about some serious side effects–INCLUDING DEATH have occured.

    It reminded me of an old Etrade commercial from back in 2000 or earlier, when they mocked a commercial like this and rattled off a litany of hilarious side effects (including “giant eyeball”) all set to a beautiful visual.

    How quickly life imitates art. Or is that the other way around.

    Either way, I’m about to undergo elective surgery myself for a hernia of all freakin things, and the doctors have given me in advance some Celebrex to take. Of course now I’m panicked. Don’t worry, I’m not looking for advice from posters here. I’m talking to my doctor about the giant eyeball.