A former user of the pain relief medicine Vioxx is suing the drug maker and Wal-Mart in a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday in circuit court in Hempstead County, Ark.
Vioxx, commonly used for arthritis, was pulled from the market last week. Reports surfaced that showed that in some clinical trials, patients who used Vioxx suffered heart problems.
Vioxx, which is marketed by Merck & Co., was recalled by the company because results from its long-term study showed an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks and strokes for people taking the medication longer than 18 months.
Bobby Brown, according to the lawsuit, took Vioxx for arthritis from 1999 until September 2004 when Merck recalled the drug.
Brown bought his Vioxx at the pharmacy within Hope’s Wal-Mart store.
“At various points during which (Brown) was taking Vioxx, (Brown) suffered multiple cardiac instances, including myocardial infarction. Most recently, plaintiff Bobby Brown suffered an atrial defibrillation from which he has yet to recover,” according to the lawsuit.
Myocardial infarction is the medical term for what is commonly described as a heart attack.
The Browns allege that Merck and Wal-Mart hid the heart risks associated with the use of Vioxx as part of market positioning. They allege that Vioxx’s competitor drug, Celebrex, was placed on the market three months before Vioxx.
A report presented at the European United League against Rheumatism in June 2000 was critical of Vioxx and said it increased hypertension and heart attacks. Merck denied the allegations at that time and again in August 2000 in an article in Pharmacy Today, the official trade magazine of the American Pharmaceutical Association.
“Merck continued to deny the ill health effects associated with Vioxx while at the same time reaping the profits obtained through the non-disclosure,” according to the Browns’ lawsuit. “The resultant effect to Merck in concealing and failing to reveal and warn of the risks was a more than $2 billion profit in 2000 alone to Merck and an approximately 23 percent share of the market.”
According to the lawsuit, Merck received a third warning letter by the FDA in September 2001 alleging that Vioxx’s promotional activities were “false, lacking in fair balance, or otherwise misleading in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and applicable regulations.”
The Browns allege that throughout this period-until the drug was pulled-Merck used an aggressive marketing program that included financial incentives to sales teams and added 700 new drug sales representatives with a massive advertising and drug sampling program.
There are numerous Vioxx lawsuits being filed across the U.S., but Patton’s lawsuit in Hope is the first to hit Southwestern Arkansas’ circuit courts.