Merck Loses Texas Vioxx® Case
RIO GRANDE CITY, TX -- April 28, 2006 -- In a closely watched Texas case, a jury returned a verdict of $32 million in favor of the family of Leonel Garza, a 71-year-old retiree who died of a heart attack after taking the painkiller Vioxx® for less than a month. The amount included $7 million in non-economic compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.
The manufacturer of Vioxx®, Merck, lost another case this month--this time in its home state of New Jersey. Merck failed to warn patients and doctors that Vioxx® increased the risk of heart attacks, according to the jury. It awarded $9 million in punitive damages to Irma McDarby and her husband, John McDarby, a diabetic who suffered a heart attack after using Vioxx® for four years. The punitive damages were in addition to $4.5 million in compensatory damages, bringing the total verdict amount to $13.5 million.
Last year, a Texas jury returned a verdict of $253.5 million against Merck in the first Vioxx® injury case to come to trial. The plaintiff was the widow of Robert Ernst, an active 59-year old man who died of a heart attack after taking Vioxx® for eight months. Merck now expects to defend over 11,500 lawsuits over Vioxx®, with 23,300 separate plaintiffs, as well as 190 class-action lawsuits, according to its earnings report (NY Times, April 22, 2006).
Vioxx® Was Recalled in September 2004
About 20 million Americans took Vioxx® from the time it was first approved in 1999 until it was withdrawn from the market in September 2004 because of its link to heart attacks and strokes. In a three-year clinical trial in which Vioxx® was used to treat colon cancer patients (the APPROVe report), patients who took the drug had an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes compared with those who took a placebo (a sugar pill). The risk was greatest in patients who had been taking Vioxx® for more than 18 months.
Another study looked at stomach problems in patients who had used certain painkillers for 9 months or less (the VIGOR study; N Engl J Med. 2000 Nov 23; 343(21): 1520-8). Vioxx® users who took part in the study had four times the risk of having heart attacks or strokes than did patients who used a more traditional painkiller, naproxen.
Vioxx®, Bextra® and Celebrex® Are COX-2 Inhibitors
Vioxx® (rofecoxib) is a NSAID or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, a classification that includes common aspirin, naproxen, and other more traditional painkillers. However, Vioxx® blocks the enzyme cyclooxygenase, which is associated with inflammation and pain. Vioxx® interferes with the form of cyclooxygenase known as COX-2, and is therefore referred to as a COX-2 inhibitor.
Bextra® and Celebrex® are two other COX-2 inhibitors. Bextra® was recalled in April, 2005 because it increased heart attack risk as well as the likelihood of severe skin allergies in some patients. Celebrex® has also been linked to heart attacks, but remains on the market.