Merck Loses Vioxx CaseAug 19, 2005 | CNN DOBBS: A jury tonight in Texas finding Merck liable for the death of a man who took its blockbuster painkiller drug Vioxx.
The jury awarded his widow more than a quarter of a billion dollars in damages after reviewing evidence that links the drug to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. This is the first of thousands of Vioxx-related lawsuits slated for trial. Ali Velshi is here now.
Ali, this award is unbelievable.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's phenomenal. It's also not like to stand up. The widow of the man who is in question here has actually -- her lawyer said he doesn't expect this award of $229 million in punitive damages to stay because under Texas law, they don't allow it. That 229 is probably going to come down to $2 million.
DOBBS: Do we know what inspired the jury to come up with such a massive number?
VELSHI: The issue is how the drug companies market these drugs. The information was out there that they have risks, but here's the issue. These are competitive drugs to Vioxx.
VELSHI: extra pain killers. And this is the stuff that comes with it. The drug companies say, "we put this out there. This is the information that you need to read." But who reads it? Do we read it? Should we read it? The issue is that Merck marketed this drug with the benefits and focus and the risks.
DOBBS: And a point of fact, Bextra, Celebrex, and Vioxx, Vioxx taken off the market, these for a short period, the FDA ultimately being criticized roundly for permitting these COX-2 inhibitors to be on the market at all. Several scientists saying they're simply not safe. But the lack of safety justified because of the immense pain that apparently some of these drugs, apparently I say underlined, relieve. So it's a remarkable situation.
VELSHI: Vioxx with a $2.5 billion a year drug. Lipitor is a $10 billion a year drug. But these drugs all come with risks, and everybody has to weigh the good against the bad. And the issue is how much information do you need to make that decision.
DOBBS: And Merck's stock, as one might expect, plummeting today.
VELSHI: It took a big hit today. But it took a big hit when they pulled it off the first time. So Merck is a smaller company than it once was.
DOBBS: OK. With 4,000 lawsuits in the wings...
VELSHI: This is where people are worried. Might be up to $50 billion in liabilities some analysts say. We'll find out more as this unfolds.
DOBBS: Indeed we will. Ali Velshi, thank you.