On September 6, 2006, two years after its voluntary withdrawal of Vioxx from the market, Merck released a self-funded study attempting to evade charges that the company knew of the dangers of Vioxx prior to selling the drug to the public. According to an ATLA (Association of Trial Lawyers of America) press release, documents produced because of the numerous lawsuits in several states that have been brought against the company show that as early as 1997 Merck researchers knew that Vioxx’s side-effects posed the risk of serious, even fatal, heart problems.
The evidence presented by internal memos and representatives’ training materials is damning. For instance, training materials advise Merck reps to play “dodgeball” with doctors, flatly denying the truth that Vioxx caused heart attacks. Moreover, in Congressional hearings, several doctors testified that they were threatened by Merck executives when they began to publicly express their concerns over the life-threatening side-effects of the drug. Despite the powerful evidence against Merck, the company has been vigorously defending the Vioxx lawsuits on causation grounds. Plaintiffs suing Merck have had a tough road, significant verdicts, always appealed, and more defeats. Nevertheless, the lawsuits guarantee that Merck’s sale of a dangerous drug, will not be without serious consequences for the company.The civil justice system remains a necessary counterbalance to the enormous power and resources of the pharmaceutical industry.