Another Vioxx Lawsuit Settles

In the ongoing legal activity surrounding Merck & Company’s recalled blockbuster pain medication, <"">Vioxx, another settlement has been reached in a lawsuit allegedly involving the death of John Henderson, the Madison St. Clair Record just reported.

Henderson’s wife, Norma Henderson, and her attorneys agreed to accept the proposed settlement in excess of $200,000, said the Madison St. Clair Record. The lawsuit was originally filed against the drug giant on July 9, 2003 and alleged that Vioxx was responsible for the death of Mr. Henderson, the Madison St. Clair Record explained.

Most recently, a lawsuit emerged in the United States naming a number of federal lawmakers as defendants, including U.S. democratic senators Patrick Leahy (Vermont), Russell Feingold (Wisconsin), and Edward Kennedy (Massachusetts), said Highlands Today in a prior report.

Vioxx was approved for use in the U.S. in 1999, quickly becoming a hit for drug maker, Merck, with annual sales of $2.5 billion. Vioxx was pulled off the market in 2004 after an analysis of patients using Vioxx linked the defective drug to over 27,000 heart attacks or sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. from 1999 through 2003. Vioxx was also recalled in over 80 countries that year. The Vioxx recall spawned thousands of product liability lawsuits and, in 2007, Merck agreed to settle most U.S. Vioxx claims for $4.85 billion. Merck continues to defend lawsuits in other countries, including Australia.

Of interest, the Vioxx trial that is ongoing in Australia has shed new light on the questionable tactics Merck used to market its dangerous painkiller. According to The Australian, Merck orchestrated “patient loyalty programs” that, publicly, seemed to be about increasing “quality of life.” Privately, reported The Australian, Merck was only seeking improved “patient compliance” and retention while doubling “sales potential.”

The Australian cited internal court documents that show Merck’s Australian arm—Merck, Sharp and Dohme—planned a “patient support program” when it launched Vioxx to increase “patient retention.” Citing marketing briefs presented in court, The Australian said the drug giant presented a patient program in 2002 developed to calm consumer concern about Vioxx safety and sought to “block” the launch of a rival anti-arthritis drug.

Although Merck continues to fight the class action, a 2002 patient program, entitled “Vioxx—A Step in the Right Direction” revealed that while the program’s “external” objectives included myriad forms of patient education, internally, the objectives differed sharply and were not as altruistic as Merck would have us believe. For instance, said The Australian previously, there is documentation regarding several significant challenges faced over Vioxx’s cost and safety. To resolve this, according to one internal document, the plan stated, “Increase the average treatment time from three months to six months, effectively doubling sales potential for these patients,” and “Assist in blocking the launch of valdecoxib (rival drug) by taking up as many Vioxx patients as possible prior to the Bextra launch and holding them for the launch period,” quoted The Australian.

The document also discussed targeting General Practitioner (GP) physicians to recommend Vioxx to patients, who would then be provided with a welcome packet and the potential for a “prize of nominal value.”

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