The State of Iowa will receive $1.3 million dollars from pharmaceutical giant Merck for false and risky marketing of the pain relief drug Vioxx. Though Vioxx has been off the market since 2004, Merck is only just now beginning to face the real consequences of their actions. The $1.3 million settlement is part of a larger $58 million nationwide settlement.
Over a period of five years, from 2000 to 2004, 80 million people took Vioxx, and it is estimated that 38,000 of those patients died directly because of the drug. In this recent settlement, Iowa and other states allege that Merck was directly marketing the drug to consumers, while knowing through the whole five year period that it was dangerous. Early on, tests showed that Vioxx dramatically increased the risk of heart attack, stroke and death. Yet they continued to market it anyway.
That resulted in literally billions of dollars in profit for Merck, and tens of thousands of heart attacks and deaths for patients who had been assured the drug was safe. In addition to a large-scale class action lawsuit, Merck has faced heat from a variety of sources.
This new $58 billion settlement doesn’t do much to comfort those who lost loved ones to Vioxx. However, contingent in the settlement is that Merck now has to run all patient-targeted advertising through the FDA for approval. This means that television ads with a false promise of hope will not, hopefully, get as far as consumers or do as much damage as the aggressive Vioxx advertising had. In addition, states like Iowa can use the settlement money to help fund consumer education as well as litigate other companies who have put the public at risk like Merck has.