Vioxx Lawsuit Names Congressmen

In the continuing legal problems over painkiller <"">Vioxx, a new lawsuit has emerged in the United States naming a number of federal lawmakers as defendants. The lawsuit was filed this week and names U.S. democratic senators Patrick Leahy (Vermont), Russell Feingold (Wisconsin), and Edward Kennedy (Massachusetts), said Highlands Today.

Vioxx was approved for use in the U.S. in 1999, quickly becoming a blockbuster for drug maker, Merck & Co., 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.

Now, Joan Petty, 75, alleges she suffered three heart attacks and two strokes after taking Vioxx and is looking to hold the congressmen accountable for their parts in enabling Vioxx to be prescribed to consumers without appropriate warnings, reports Highlands Today. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. Federal Court’s southern district of Florida, said Highlands Today, adding that the lawsuit “alleges a violation of fundamental rights” naming in excess of 20 government lawmakers who allegedly enabled the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow laws to block “failure to warn” lawsuits. “Congress has omitted product liability for prescription drugs and medical devices,” Petty said. “They want to keep a shield on the prescription drug companies and leave the public at risk,” quoted Highlands Today.

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.”

In the U.S., Petty alleges she began taking Vioxx in 1999 for arthritis, saying, “It’s a heck of a way to go. When I first took it (Vioxx), I was a healthy person,” reported Highlands Today. Petty went through surgery after a cardiac blood vessel broke after taking the painkiller, dying on the table and requiring medical assistance to be brought back to life, explained Highlands Today. Petty then filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) action against Merck in 2007, the same year Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion said Highlands Today.

Petty’s new lawsuit claims Vioxx killed 88,000 people and injured 169,000 with heart attack and stroke. “Vioxx didn’t have any labels on it. You didn’t know what was in that,” she said, adding that she believes lawmakers likely protected drug companies over connections with powerful lobbyists, reported Highlands Today.

“The actual result of shielding the pharmaceutical industry and the individuals therein was a loss of customary protection usually in place to prevent an industry from criminally developing and marketing and persisting in marketing a defective product,” the lawsuit states. Petty is hoping the suit will spark a change in how pharmaceutical companies are protected and enable adequate public information about drug dangers, said Highlands Today. “I think these senators that have avoided this law and left it out and left the people at risk (have) done an unjust to the public,” she said, quoted Highlands Today. Merck was to pay money into a fund to allow those claiming injury from Vioxx to collect; Petty claims that, to date, she has not received any of that money, said Highlands Today.

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