Vioxx: the headache that won’t go away

For drug makers, developing a popular prescription medicine can do wonders for the bottom line. Unless, of course, the medicine leaves its users worse off than they were, or even kills then. Then it can be a real money pit. Take Vioxx, for instance. For Merck, it’s four down and another 9,996 to go—lawsuits, that is, over the once-popular prescription pain reliever, which Merck removed from the shelves in 2004 after users started keeling over in disproportionate numbers from heart attacks and strokes. Yesterday, a jury awarded a New Jersey plaintiff who suffered a heart attack after using the drug $9 million in punitive damages after concluding that Merck had misled the public about the health risks. That’s on top of the $4.5 million that the plaintiff and his wife were awarded last week in compensatory damages. A CNN/Money report estimates that some 10,000 lawsuits have been filed by former Vioxx takers. So far, Merck has won two cases and lost one. Not a bad stat in baseball, but a little fuzzier when it comes to quarterly profits. Little wonder Merck has already decided to appeal the verdict.

—Posted by Steve McClellan