Vioxx Heart Attack Risk Higher than Previously Thought

Expert witnesses continued to hammer away at Merck & Co as the latest Vioxx product liability trial moved through its second week. 

On Wednesday, Edward Scolnick, a former Chief Scientist for Merck, testified via videotape about an email he sent to a Merck colleague. The email stated his fear that Vioxx was causing strokes, heart attacks, and other health problems. He called for Merck to do a cardiovascular study to insure that the drug was safe.  Such a study never took place.

Yesterday, University of Washington biostatistician Richard Kronmal said that even short-tem use of Vioxx could double the risk of a heart attack.  He said that Vioxx had severe effects on the vascular system, and that patients who took the painkiller in company-sponsored tests suffered serious damage to their blood vessels almost immediately.  Merck denies that charge and, in cross-examination, Mr. Kronmal acknowledged that other scientists and the FDA did not share his view. 

Merck & Co is being sued by Frederick Humeston, who claims that his 2001 heart attack was caused by Vioxx.  His attorneys have told jurors that Merck was aware of the drug’s risks and failed to warn consumers.  Merck contends that Vioxx only increased cardiac risk if it was taken for over 18 months, and that Mr. Humeston’s two-month Vioxx regimen could not have been the cause of his heart attack.

The drug was pulled off the market by Merck a year ago, disappointing its estimated 20 million users.  Vioxx had been a popular replacement for other prescription pain killers that caused stomach pain or bleeding.

Merck faces over 5,000 Vioxx lawsuits and plans to appeal a recent $253 million liability verdict that was awarded against the company in Texas.

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