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Plaintiff says Merck knew of potential dangers with Vioxx

Jun 28, 2006 | AP

Merck & Co. knew of potential harmful side effects of its drug Vioxx and failed to notify doctors, a lawyer for a man who claims the painkiller caused his heart attack said Tuesday in opening statements of the first Vioxx liability case to go to trial in California.

"Merck knew of these potential side effects and never told a soul," said the attorney, who is representing the plaintiff.

The Whitehouse Station-based drug manufacturer, which says there's no proof Vioxx caused the Southern California man's heart ailments, was to present its opening statement later in the day. The drug was taken off the market two years ago amid concerns it increased the risk of heart ailments.

The plantiff's attorney, said that testing inadequacies such as excluding patients with a history of heart disease clouded the experiments and that the company had a "careless disregard" for patients for not warning doctors of the potential for heart attacks.

Company memos dating to 1996 showed that Merck was aware of the potential side effects, he said.

The company nevertheless hired 3,000 sales people and trained them to downplay the risks when talking with doctors, Girardi said.

The palntiff's suit is one of more than 13,000 such claims against Merck nationwide. Some 2,000 of the lawsuits were filed in California and consolidated in Los Angeles Superior Court by Judge Victoria G. Chaney.

Merck put Vioxx on the market in 1999 as a treatment for arthritis and acute pain in adults. The company pulled the drug from the market, citing research showing that Vioxx doubled risk of heart attacks and strokes with long-term use.

In pretrial briefs, the plantiff, 71, contends that Vioxx is unsafe and alleges that Merck misled consumers with advertising that didn't acknowledge the drug posed a risk of heart problems. He is seeking unspecified damages on the grounds that the company was negligent and failed to warn users of the drug, among other allegations.

Merck counters that it is the victim of frivolous lawsuits sparked after the pharmaceutical company withdrew Vioxx voluntarily in 2004. In court documents, the company has argued there is no proof Vioxx caused the palntiff's heart ailments and instead points to his family history and preexisting conditions as the main factor.

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