Why the Vioxx Lawsuits?

By: Attorney Arthur Penn
Merck & Co Inc. pulled its drug Vioxx off the market on Thursday, September 30, 2004 because the drug was linked to serious side effects including an increase in the risk of heart attacks and strokes; blood clots; and severe intestinal damage, including ulcerations and bleeding. The move sent the company's shares plunging almost 27 percent and erased $25 billion of its market value.

Vioxx, which has been used by 84 million people around the world since 1999, was Merck's fourth-biggest drug. It had sales of $2.55 billion last year, accounting for more than 10 percent of annual revenues.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Vioxx in 1999 for the treatment of osteoarthritis and the management of acute pain in adults.

Concerns over Vioxx have been building for several years after earlier studies showed higher risk of heart attack and stroke, but Merck has always maintained that the drug was safe. An article published in August 2001 in the Journal of the American Medical Association raised concerns over the negative side effects on cardiovascualar health related to both Vioxx and Celebrex. Likewise, a research report by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Science, published in the May 28, 2004 issue of The Lancet, suggests that arthritis patients taking Vioxx were 80% more likely to be hospitalized for heart failure. This risk is compared to a 10% risk with ibuprofen or naproxen -- two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The researchers believed that until more research was done on Vioxx, doctors should use caution in prescribing Vioxx, as well as Celebrex, to patients with heart disease.

The decision to voluntarily withdraw Vioxx came after a trial of 2,600 patients showed those taking it faced twice the risk of heart attack or stroke after three years as patients taking a placebo. It appears that Merck may not have had enough trial data before releasing Vioxx into market and the company may have ignored early warning signs. Unfortunately, this comes too late for many patients.

Patients considering a move from Vioxx to another treatment should consult with their doctor first. Only your doctor can evaluate an individual’s risk and recommend the best course of treatment.

Thus far, in New Jersey, hundreds of Vioxx defective drug lawsuits have been filed. Attorneys who filed Vioxx lawsuits have charged that the pharmaceutical giant disregarded evidence of Vioxx-related problems as far back to 1999, the year the drug first went on the market.

Finally, patients can get a refund for unused Vioxx by mailing back the remaining drug in the original container, along with a pharmacy receipt. A note with the patient's name, address and phone number should be included. The company will reimburse the cost of the full prescription (as reflected on the pharmacy receipt). To receive a prepaid postage Vioxx return package, patients should contact the National Notification Center at 1-800-805-9542.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Arthur Penn, Esq., and Joseph A. Gorman, Esq., practice class action and mass tort litigation as attorneys with the Princeton, Mt. Holly and Nutley, New Jersey law firm of Pellettieri, Rabstein and Altman. Mr. Penn is a former Director of the Division of Public Interest Advocacy for the New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate (1974-1978) Assistant Commissioner, New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate (1979-1981), and Member, New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Civil Procedure (1978-1981). You may contact Mr. Penn or Mr. Gorman toll free at 1-800-432-LAWS or online at

Legal Resources:
Articles Glossary