Australian Vioxx Trial Continues

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Motel Hell psp trial that is ongoing in Australia and which has shed new light on the questionable tactics Merck & Co. used to market the dangerous painkiller has, said the Australian, involved a leading American cardiologist who testified that Vioxx played a “substantial contributing role” to the heart attack suffered by a 58-year-old Australian.

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Vioxx was approved for use in the U.S. in 1999 and quickly became a blockbuster for Merck, with annual sales of $2.5 billion. The painkiller was pulled off the market in 2004 after an analysis of patients using Vioxx linked the defective drug to more than 27,000 heart attacks or sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. from 1999 through 2003. Vioxx was also recalled in more than 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. But, Merck continues to defend lawsuits in other countries, including Australia.

According to Douglas Zipes’— a cardiologist from Indiana University—testimony, he “strongly believed” Vioxx was a significant contributing factor in Graeme Peterson’s –a 58-year-old former Australian Navy Officer—2003 heart attack. The class action is against U.S. Vioxx manufacturer Merck & Co as well as its Australian subsidiary Merck, Sharp and Dohme, said The Australian. Richard Harper, from Melbourne’s Monash University told the court that Vioxx “exacerbated” Peterson’s risk factors saying, “I believed Vioxx doubled his risk of heart attack. It increased the risk of someone who was already at a high risk,” quoted The Australian. The Australian reported that other experts found no so-call physical “footprint” to prove Vioxx caused the heart attack, citing other risk factors. One of the claims being made in the large class action is that Merck was aware of Vioxx’s cardiovascular risks long before the drug’s withdrawal from the market.

Meanwhile, recently the Australian Vioxx trial also revealed that Merck paid so-called nurses to look through medical records in search of potential Vioxx patients, said BNET in a prior report. According to the Australian court, the nurses accessed patient records without obtaining physician permission in the hopes of garnering 100 patients per doctor, explained BNET. Patients were sought who were not taking, but were seen as potential candidates to take, Vioxx, said BNET, citing a prior The Australian report.

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It seems, said The Australian, that the drug giant urged pharmacists to recommend Vioxx to those patients who were prescribed paracetemol by providing them with free copies of the Merck manual, according to BNET. Merck also apparently put on a year-end “skit” in which Merck sales reps mocked the Journal of the American Medical Association. The Journal published an article discussing Vioxx and issues with its cardiovascular side effects, said BNET.

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News of the skit is somewhat ironic, especially given recent reports on one of the most shocking tactics used by Merck to push Vioxx in Australia: The use of a fake medical journal. The journal, published by Elsevier, was offering it like other peer-reviewed medical journals, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles, all of which presented Merck products, including Vioxx, in a favorable light. According to an earlier New York Times piece, Merck published several issues of the “journal,” entitled Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, between 2002 and 2005, presenting the journal to doctors as a real medical journal.

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