Banned drug Vioxx use in detention centres demands answers and inquiry

Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Western Australia 6312
Phone: 0417 090 130

Banned drug Vioxx use in detention centres demands answers and inquiry

Media Release
Tuesday March 29 2005 10:30pm WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

"After revelations in the Australian media earlier this week on ABC's Background Briefing and ABC's Four Corners, followed by this morning's revelations by refugee advocates that the banned and damaging Merck Drug Vioxx (rofecoxib) - withdrawn September last year in the world's largest drug recall - is still in use at Australia's "detainee warehousing centre" on Nauru, WA refugee advocacy, lobby and action group Project SafeCom demands some hard and complete answers," spokesman Jack Smit said this morning.

"This morning's revelations by Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne that a woman currently in Melbourne for medical care - but after more than 3 years still locked up in the Nauru detention centre on behalf of the Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone - was medicated with Vioxx until recent intervention by refugee advocates stopped it, raise far greater questions than just whether or not this appalling poison pill is still being handed out on Nauru to asylum seekers."

According to credible internet information, side effects and risk factors of the use of Vioxx include heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, angina, ulcers/bleeding, nonbacterial meningitis, severe intestinal damage, kidney damage, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, upper respiratory tract infection, high blood pressure, swelling of the lower extremities and fluid retention, tiredness, urinary tract infection and back pain. [website links below]

"The Minister can start by telling us whether or not Afghan refugee Mohammed Sarwar, who died on Nauru in September 2003 - according to the Australian government "of natural causes" at the age of 26 - was prescribed this drug, at what dose, how often, and for what duration."

"Next, the Minister can answer whether Vioxx was also in use on Christmas Island, where in January 2003 28-year old Fatima Erfani became gravely unwell with high blood pressure and eventually died in a Perth hospital of a brain haemorrhage, and whether Fatima was also prescribed this killer drug. It seems that her symptoms were consistent with the use of Vioxx."

Fatima's death story

"Then, the Minister can supply the list of detainees in the now defunct Curtin, Port Hedland and Woomera detention centres and the 'warehousing compound' on PNG's Manus Island, and tell us who was prescribed Vioxx, and supply details as to the intensity, frequency and duration of the doses of Vioxx - including details of medications issued to Mr Mohammed Saleh, who died of complications of surgery in Perth in 2002 - just to make sure Vioxx can be excluded from his cause of death."

"And Senator Amanda Vanstone can complete the job by supplying the same details for Maribyrnong, Villawood and Baxter: we at Project SafeCom are confident that the Minister is happy to openly speak with Australians, the media and the Joint Committee about her "three-star motels", as she called detention centres on ABC Radio's Sunday Profile last Sunday."

"It is extremely important, and wholly within the Duty of Care of the Immigration Minister, that those persons who received this once called "wonder aspirin" are traced, medically checked, warned, and treated and compensated if it can be established or suspected that they are, or may be, currently suffering from conditions connected to the use of Vioxx."

"This week, the Minister is presented with an excellent opportunity to start her work in clearing up this issue, when the Joint Standing Committee on Migration meets in Parliament House in Canberra on 13 April. She has an excellent opportunity right this Thursday to tell Don Randall MP, Julia Irwin MP, the Senators Andrew Bartlett, Alan Eggleston, Linda Kirk, Tsebin Tchen and Laurie Ferguson MP, Michael Keenan MP, Dr Carmen Lawrence MP and Dr Andrew Southcott MP about all aspects of this medication, and make a good and firm start to clean her slate on this issue." [Committee link below]

"We also expect a full briefing to the Australian public - and not another turn from the government spin machine - from the Minister if she wants to gain some kind of credibility in the eyes of the public that's becoming increasingly critical of mandatory detention under Howard, and she owes it those in detention or in the community who still suffer after-effects from the use of this horror-pill, or who have suffered in the past, or perhaps, who have died as a result of this worldwide push for profit and greed by the drug's manufacturers, and by the cover-ups of the FDA."

"If the Minister, as is usually the case with the Howard government, once again wants to replace her duty of fully informing the Australian public, with engaging a spin machine and an evasion of answers, then surely we must demand an inquiry into the Vioxx disaster and how it has affected the health of asylum seekers in Australian detention centres."

For more information:

Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]

Online resources:

There are hundreds of websites about lawsuits, warnings, news and medical information for the millions of people affected by this drug. Some examples are:

Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Migration:

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