Arthritis drug and painkiller Vioxx is being recalled worldwide in light of new information that shows a potential higher risk of heart attack and stroke in patients.
Merck & Co. decided to pull the drug from the market after a three-year clinical trial found that patients being treated longer than 18-months faced twice the risk of heart complications as those taking a placebo.
The recall is effective immediately, and as of yesterday local pharmacists had already stopped writing prescriptions for the drug.
“We haven’t been notified of anything officially,’ said Larry Smitherman, a pharmacist with Chandler Drugs in Clanton, “but as of right now I’m not filling anymore prescriptions on it.”
Smitherman said he got up yesterday morning and saw the story on television, and is now awaiting official notification so he can pull all cases of Vioxx off the shelves. He indicated the product would have to be sent back to the manufacturer to be destroyed, after which the company would reimburse them for it.
Vioxx is among the top 20 most used drugs in the United States. Worldwide sales reached approximately $2.5 billion in 2003, following a nearly 20-percent drop this year due to safety concerns.
The drug, also known as Ceoxx in some countries, has been on the market since 1999, when it was first approved in the U.S. for treating acute pain and arthritis-related inflammation.
Smitherman was unable to release an exact number of local patients with prescriptions for the drug, but indicated there were many, along with multitudes in the U.S. and at least 80 other countries worldwide.
As for the percentage of the product still in customers’ hands to be returned, Merck estimated about one month’s worth of inventory accounts for that statistic.
The company estimated earnings per share to plunge by as much as 60-cents following the recall, which is one of the biggest of its kind in recent history among prescription drugs.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and equivalent authorities in other countries have been notified by the company of the recall.