Merck agrees to $58 million multi-state Vioxx settlement

By Chris Rizo | May 20, 2008

Greg Abbott

Tom Corbett

DALLAS, Texas (Legal Newsline)-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Tuesday reached a $58 million settlement with Merck & Co. Inc., capping three years of litigation by 29 state attorneys general.

Abbott charged the pharmaceutical giant with illegally marketing the prescription drug Vioxx, which has since been taken off the market.

In accepting the multi-state settlement, which includes a bevy of compliance measures, Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck did not admit to any wrongdoing, court papers show.

"Merck remains committed to communications that help patients and their physicians choose medicines based on accurate, fair and balanced information," said Bruce Kuhlik, executive vice president and general counsel of Merck.

"Today's agreement enables Merck to put this matter behind us and focus on what Merck does best, developing new medicines," Kuhlik said in a statement.

Merck was accused of improperly marketing Vioxx, a "Cox 2-inhibitor" drug. It was marketed as a pain killer despite the company's knowledge of the health risks of the medication.

The once-popular drug was taken off the market in 2004, after health risks associated with the drug were publicized.

In November, Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits claiming that Vioxx caused heart attacks and strokes in some patients.

Under Tuesday's settlement, Merck must submit all of its television advertising to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for review and clearance, and the FDA can delay Merck's commercials for pain killers if the federal agency needs additional time to complete its review.

The settlement also bars Merck from presenting "misleading" scientific data to healthcare providers, and prohibits the drug company from using ghost writers to author articles and medical studies supportive of Merck products.

"Ghostwriting can be a particularly deceptive practice," Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said.

"Some of these articles looked as though they were being published by an independent doctor or organization, but they were allegedly written by people who worked for, or had some sort of interest, in Merck," Corbett added.

The multi-state settlement is separate from the active Vioxx case the Texas attorney general has in Travis County District Court.

In that case, Merck is accused of suppressing important Vioxx information to physicians, patients and the Texas Medicaid program.

During the time period covered by the state's lawsuit, Texas spent more than $72 million on Vioxx prescriptions for its Medicaid recipients, the attorney general's office said.

In addition to Texas and Pennsylvania, the settlement includes Arkansas, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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