US health maintenance organisation, Kaiser Permanente, has ordered its pharmacies to stop dispensing Pfizer’s arthritis and acute pain drug, Bextra (valdecoxib), after the product was linked with an increased risk of heart attack, according to Industry reports.

According to a company memo issued late on Friday, Kaiser’s decision came on the back of “compelling evidence” of increased risks of heart attack amongst patients taking Bextra and Merck & Co’s now withdrawn Vioxx (rofecoxib) [[01/10/04a]], [[26/01/05a]], an Associated Press article notes, adding that the organisation’s veto will remain until tests show that the drug is in fact safe. It is thought to be the first time that doctors have decided to put a halt on prescriptions of a US Food and Drug Administration-approved drug.

However, citing a Kaiser spokeswoman, the New York Times said that it was unlikely that the decision would affect many patients as many of the organisation’s doctors had recently steered clear of prescribing the product.

The latest news comes just days after influential US consumer group, Public Citizen, petitioned the FDA to withdraw Bextra saying that the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke outweighs treatment benefits [[25/01/05b]]. “If a drug offers no unique benefit compared to other drugs for treating the same problem (in this case arthritis and pain) but subjects patients to a unique risk, it must be removed from the market,” the organisation’s 12-page petition stated.