Can Merck Finally Get Past the Vioxx Scandal?


Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) has already doled out $4.85 billion to resolve lawsuits related to its Vioxx painkiller, and the company has been ordered to pay an additional $23 million on charges that it mislead customers about the drug’s safety and efficacy.

Litigation over the drug has been ongoing since 2005, when 87 people filed a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company alleging that Vioxx caused heart attacks and other injuries. A settlement of those charges was reached in 2007, when Merck was ordered to pay the patients $4.85 billion in damages. In 2011, the company paid an additional $950 million to end a government investigation of the drug’s marketing practices.

According to a report from Bloomberg, the additional $23 million Merck has been ordered to pay this week would grant consumers who used Vioxx $50 each to cover any economic losses related to the drug, including prescription co-pays and doctor appointments.

Vioxx was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1999; the anti-inflammatory painkiller was Merck’s third-highest selling drug by 2003. The drug brought in $2.5 billion a year in revenue for the company, much of which Merck has seen disappear after it was discovered that Vioxx increased the risk of heart attack and stroke. The drug was pulled off the market in 2004.

Merck was accused by the government and plaintiffs’ lawyers of inappropriately marketing the drug and purposefully ignoring negative health effects caused by Vioxx. Under the nationwide class-action case, patients who can prove they were prescribed Vioxx are eligible for payments between $50 and $75.

The pharmaceutical company is looking to put the 8-year-old scandal behind it. The company has agreed to pay “all properly documented claims submitted by class members and approved attorneys’ fees and expenses,” according to an emailed statement to Bloomberg from spokeswoman Lainie Keller.

All told, the Vioxx scandal has cost Merck $5.8 billion thus far.

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