Eight states, along with Florida, are suing drugmaker Merck & Co alleging deceptive marketing of the recalled painkiller Vioxx.
Florida’s Attorney General Bill McCollum says the state wants to be reimbursed for more than $80 million spent on health programs, such as Florida’s Medicaid program, which included Vioxx as an approved drug. Patients taking it for pain would be reimbursed for the prescription.
McCollum says that between 1999 and 2004, when Vioxx was taken off the market, the state’s Medicaid payments alone exceeded $80 million. He wants that money back plus interest. It also seeks civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.
The lawsuit claims that while Merck offered Vioxx to the Medicaid program it was hiding the drug’s adverse effects in direct violation of the state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Merck’s expensive promotional campaign, featuring at one time Olympians Dorothy Hamill and Bruce Jenner in full page ads, was developed to convince consumers the painkiller was safe and that consumers should demand the drug from their physicians. Jenner told ESPN four years ago that they knew nothing about research on Vioxx showing an increase for heart attacks and stroke.
Vioxx was pulled from the market in 2004 after patients taking the drug for arthritis pain began having heart attacks and stroke. Merck says its own research showed the pill doubled the risk.
Merck’s promotional campaign convinced doctors and patients that the drug was safe and desirable, and McCollum says in a statement that “The company also allegedly tried to intimidate physicians and researchers who questioned the safety of Vioxx.”
Tom Nesi, author of the new book on Vioxx, “Poison Pills”, recently speaking on NPR’s the Diane Rehm show, said that Vioxx represented a “total failure” and that Merck would intimidate any scientist of professor that did not promote Vioxx.
Nesi was previously a public relations man for the pharmaceutical industry.
Florida joins Alaska, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Texas, Utah and New York City which have all brought substantially similar complaints against Merck.
All, except the Texas case, are pending in a New Orleans Court under District Judge Eldon Fallon who’s been charged with overseeing Vioxx litigation, including a $4.85 billion settlement filed by thousands who have suffered heart attacks or stroke.
There is ongoing litigation as well. Two class-action lawsuits are pending in Canada as well as a class-action filed by shareholders to recover losses on Merck stock. $58 million has been paid out to end investigations by 29 states and the District of Columbia that its Vioxx ads deceptively downplayed health risks.
Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck said in a statement that Merck acted responsibly. “We intend to defend ourselves against the complaint,” said Ron Rogers.
“The medicine was labeled appropriately under the direction of the FDA according to evolving science available at the time it was on the market,” the company stated in a news release. #