AbbVie ($ABBV), Shire ($SHPG) and Pfizer ($PFE) are unamused and unimpressed by a designer's use of the names of their drugs Vicodin, Adderall and Xanax as a fashion statement. The new T-shirts have struck a nerve even as regulators like the FDA are in the midst of a national discussion on prescription drug abuse.
According to the New York Daily News, the three companies are looking into their "options"--code word for litigation--after designer Brian Lichtenberg's black and white T-shirts stirred up a response from people who think they make fun of drug addiction. The shirts have "Xanax," "Adderall" or "Vicodin" written on the back in block letters along with a number, so they look like football jerseys.
"We did not approve nor do we condone the use of our brand (Vicodin) in this manner," AbbVie told the newspaper in a statement. "These medications treat serious health conditions and we believe they should never be trivialized." Shire was equally outraged. "The use of 'Adderall' in this fashion gravely concerns Shire as it glorifies the misuse and diversion of a federally controlled prescription drug for the treatment of ADHD. Shire opposes the misuse and diversion of prescription drugs."
Concern is growing about prescription drug abuse and overdoses, and the FDA has been under building pressure to take steps to help curb it. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the three types of prescription drugs that are most abused are opioids (like Vicodin), depressants (like Xanax), and stimulants (like Adderall). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported recently that opioid abuse grew fourfold among women and two-and-a-half-fold among men between 1999 and 2010. The FDA recently took the unusual step of banning generics of Purdue Pharma's original OxyContin, pushed by some members of Congress who believed a flood of generics would exacerbate opioid abuse. The agency said "the benefits of original OxyContin no longer outweigh its risks." Purdue's reformulated version that is more difficult to abuse remains on the market.
Designer Lichtenberg, at least now that the heat is on, insists the shirts are a parody of pop culture, not intended to poke fun at drug abuse. His defense appears in a posting on a Facebook page for the L.A.-based boutique chain Kitson. He said if the shirts have started a national discussion then he has accomplished his aim. The boutique claims that some of the proceeds from the shirts are being donated to DrugFree.org's Medicine Abuse Project.
That group, however, said in its own statement that it has no record of such an offer and is as put off by the shirts as the people it works with are. "The Partnership (at Drugfree.org) would not entertain any direct donation from Kitson while they flagrantly, and without remorse, continue to sell these products," the statement says. "On behalf of the parents we work with, many of whom have lost children to prescription drug abuse and addiction, we repeat our plea to remove these shirts from Kitson's stores and website."
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