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VIOXX: Two claims down, 6398 to go

The drug industry has for years enjoyed a protected and privileged position that has allowed it to kill sections of its market with impunity.

Sadly, those heady days seem to be coming to an end, certainly in the United States. There, drug giant Merck is facing 6,400 separate suits from patients, or their surviving relatives, who claim its COX-2 anti-inflammatory, Vioxx (rofecoxib) has caused heart attacks or strokes. Merck lost the first case in August when a Texas jury found for a patient's family, and awarded compensation of $253 million. Then, in November, Merck enjoyed a small victory when a New Jersey jury decided that Vioxx had not caused a heart attack in a 60-year-old postal worker. So there are a mere 6,398 cases to go, and Merck is committed to fighting every one of them. If it goes badly, analysts estimate the actions could cost Merck around $35 billion in compensation, and that's just for the cases that have been filed thus far.

These are indeed worrying times for drug companies. If word gets out that their products are killing patients, where could it end? So, please, don't tell a soul.


  • The Lancet, 2005; 366: 1763-4