This week, the state of Florida became the ninth state to sue the pharmaceutical company Merck over its alleged deceptive marketing of Vioxx, the blockbuster painkiller that ended up causing debilitating strokes and heart attacks in thousands of patients, and was pulled from the shelves in 2004.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum filed the lawsuit on Tuesday, seeking restitution for all funds (plus interest) spent on Vioxx by Florida state health programs. Florida’s Medicaid program alone spent more than $80 million on the drug after, according to the lawsuit, Merck’s promotional campaign successfully convinced consumers not only that the drug was safe, but that they should demand it from their healthcare professionals as their preferred pain treatment.
In offering Vioxx to the state’s Medicaid program while concealing its own clinical trials and other publications which showed that Vioxx users had a 50% higher risk of stroke and heart attack, Merck directly violated Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
According to physicians and researchers who initially questioned the safety of Vioxx, Merck also employed intimidation tactics to keep them from going public with their fears.
In addition to state health program restitution, the Florida suit seeks civil penalties of up to $10,000 (to be determined by the court) for each time false Merck advertising caused a Vioxx purchase to be made. The Attorney General contends that if physicians and Medicaid patients had known the truth about Vioxx side-effects from the outset, they would have chosen other, less expensive prescriptions.
Merck spokesman Ron Rogers said Tuesday that Merck acted responsibly, and that the company intends to defend itself against the state of Florida.
Alaska, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Texas, Utah, and New York City have all brought similar claims against the multibillion dollar pharmaceutical company.