Merck pleads guilty to illegal marketing of Vioxx; pays additional 950 million dollars
This week Merck & Co., the second-largest U.S. drug manufacturer, agreed to plead guilty to making false statements in marketing the pain-killer Vioxx. It acknowledged multiple incidents of sales persons informing doctors that Vioxx had been approved and was safe and effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis, when in fact it had not been approved. Merck, Sharp and Dohme will actually enter the guilty plea. Merck pulled Vioxx off the market in 2004 after research showed it increased the risk of heart attack and stroke. It has since paid $4.85 billion dollars to settle thousands of civil lawsuits by injured patients. Some 43 states have also sued Merck to recover Medicaid expenses incurred in reliance on false representations. Michigan residents were not eligible to participate in these settlements because Michigan is the only state that provided Merck complete immunity from liability due to its FDA approval. Vioxx had been generating $2.5 billion dollars in annual sales before it was pulled from the market. Many of the civil suits allege that Merck failed to disclose research which demonstrated, early on, that Vioxx increased the risk of heart attack and stroke by as much as five times, when compared with a competing pain killer.