Merck & Co. Inc. (“Merck”) has agreed to settle class action claims against it filed in Missouri regarding its former drug, Vioxx. The Missouri class action lawsuit that was filed eight years ago alleged that Merck violated the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act when it sold and promoted Vioxx for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis despite the FDA approving Vioxx only as a painkiller in May 1999. The FDA did not approve Vioxx for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis until 2002.
It is illegal to promote or sell a drug for treatment or purposes that have not been approved by the FDA. Vioxx was removed from the U.S. market in September, 2004, as a result of mounting evidence that its use doubled the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke by patients who took Vioxx. The U.S. Department of Justice alleged that Merck had made false statements regarding Vioxx’s cardiovascular safety in order to increase its sales of Vioxx.
The settlement of the Missouri class action lawsuit may cost Merck upwards of $220 million — if and when the settlement is approved, those patients who took Vioxx have the option of receiving a one-time payment in the amount of $180.00 by filing a claim form under oath that they used Vioxx (actual proof of the purchase of Vioxx is unnecessary) or $90.00 for each month that Vioxx was purchased upon proof of purchase.
The Missouri class action lawsuit was not Merck’s only Vioxx legal troubles involving Vioxx. In April, 2012, Merck pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating marketing laws in the federal court in Massachusetts and agreed to pay $950 million to resolve the Vioxx marketing-related claims of 43 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (Missouri received $13.8 million from Merck in that case).
Merck denied wrongdoing in each of the cases.
In November 2007, Merck paid $4.85 billion to settle approximately 50,000 lawsuits filed by patients who had taken Vioxx (Merck’s record with regard to Vioxx cases that went to trial was that Merck won in about two-thirds of the cases).
One must wonder how much Merck made in profits in selling Vioxx for unapproved conditions. Was the risk in selling Vioxx for unapproved conditions worth the risk if Merck was caught? Did the criminal conviction, payments made to settle claims and pay Vioxx judgments, and the amounts paid to the 43 states and the District of Columbia result in any disincentive to Merck and other pharmaceutical companies to sell and market their products in violation of the law? Has justice been served for all those patients and their families who may have been unjustly harmed and whose lives have been changed forever by taking Vioxx?
Pharmaceutical companies are entitled to be compensated and earn profits for taking the enormous financial risks in testing new drugs and bringing them to market. If the profit-motive was altered, pharmaceutical companies would be less inclined to risk their money in finding cures and treatments for conditions that plague our citizens. Nonetheless, pharmaceutical companies must play by the rules and follow all established laws so that the public is protected.
If you or a family member have been harmed by a defective drug, dangerous drug, or a bad drug, you should promptly seek the advice of a local medical malpractice attorney who handles pharmaceutical claims.
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