AG sues Vioxx maker for $168 million
On June 30, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed civil suit seeking $168 million in damages from drug maker Merck & Co. for "willfully" misrepresenting the safety of the drug Vioxx, which was used to treat osteoarthritis and acute pain in adults until it was pulled from the market last fall.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Travis Co. district court, Merck "misrepresented and suppressed evidence" that the drug causes an increased risk of heart attack and cardiovascular and cerebrovascular problems. Ignoring its own troubling clinical trial findings, in May 1999, the company initiated what the suit calls an "aggressive" marketing campaign, hyping the benefits of Vioxx to both medical professionals and patients, and successfully placing the drug on the state's list of Medicaid reimbursable medicines. Amid mounting concerns about the drug's safety, in September, the suit says, Merck "finally admitted" the drug was not safe and that it should be withdrawn from the market.
Abbott says the Texas Medicaid system reimbursed pharmacists $56 for each Vioxx prescription during the five years the drug was on the market; he is citing the Texas Medicaid Fraud Protection Act in seeking triple damages (the $168 million) for every Vioxx prescription reimbursed through Medicaid during that time period. "This is a prime example of a company's drive for profit steamrolling its duty to be safe," Abbott said. "In this case, Merck took extreme measures to get this drug approved for widespread use, including for Medicaid patients, without the proper respect for good science and the concerns of peers." (To read the court filing, go to www.oag.state.tx.us/newspubs/releases/2005/063005vioxx.pdf.)