Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

 

May 20, 2008

Attorney General Corbett announces a multi-state, $58 million settlement with Merck over deceptive advertising concerning the safety of Vioxx

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania, along with 28 other states and the District of Columbia, reached a $58 million settlement, the largest ever for a multi-state consumer protection drug case, with Merck over allegations of deceptive advertising related to the drug, Vioxx.  Pennsylvania will receive more than $2.9 million.vioxx_chart

Attorney General Tom Corbett said that in 1999, Merck allegedly launched an aggressive and deceptive advertising campaign which misrepresented the safety and improperly concealed the increased risks associated with Vioxx. 

"Using Merck's Vioxx, which was a prescription pain relieving drug, carried an increased risk of having a heart attack or another serious cardiovascular side effect," Corbett said.  "Merck allegedly knew about this, but continued to misrepresent the safety of their product in their advertisements until they finally admitted that Vioxx caused serious side effects and pulled the product from the market in 2004."

Corbett said that early on, Merck aggressively marketed Vioxx directly to consumers.  This practice drove hundreds of thousands of consumers to seek prescriptions for the drug before doctors had a chance to gain experience with it and understand the side effects.

"Consumers need clear information about the risks associated with prescription drugs so that they can make well-informed decisions about their health care," Corbett said.  "This settlement addresses all of our concerns and will restrict Merck's ability to deceptively promote any of their products." 

Corbett also said that Merck allegedly engaged in "ghostwriting" positive articles and studies relating to Vioxx.

"Ghostwriting can be a particularly deceptive practice," Corbett said.  "Some of these articles looked as though they were being published by an independent doctor or organization, but they were allegedly written by people who worked for, or had some sort of interest, in Merck." 

Corbett said that after Vioxx was removed from the market in 2004, more than 25,000 private lawsuits were filed by consumers who were affected by the product.  But, unlike those suits, this agreement will force Merck to change their practices.

As part of the settlement, Merck has agreed to:  

  • Pay $58 million to the states involved.
  • No longer engage in "ghostwriting."
  • Refrain from using scientific data deceptively when marketing to doctors.
  • Delay any direct-to-consumer television advertising for a pain medication if recommended by the FDA.
  • Submit all television advertising campaigns to the FDA before release for review and to adhere to any recommendations by the FDA.

In addition to Pennsylvania, this settlement includes Arkansas, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

The agreement was filed in Commonwealth Court by Chief Deputy Attorney General Thomas M. Devlin and Deputy Attorney General Nicole L. VanOrder of the Attorney General's Health Care Section.

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