A lawsuit filed by the Attorney General of Montana against Merck & Co. as a result of its promotion of the blockbuster drug, Vioxx, has been settled for $16.7 million dollars.  Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton; LLP (www.hwnn.com) served as national counsel for the case.

The Consumer Protection Act prohibits companies from engaging in false, misleading or deceptive marketing in the promotion of their products.  The lawsuit alleges that Merck withheld important cardiovascular safety risks from consumers.

“Merck executives and scientists had internal concerns about the safety risks of Vioxx,” said Matt Minner, attorney for Hare Wynn. “Unfortunately, those concerns were not disclosed to the FDA or to consumers prior to Vioxx being put on the market.”

Studies conducted after Vioxx was released and being marketed to consumers confirmed that Vioxx increased the risk of heart attack.  One such study, called Vioxx Gastrointestinal Outcomes Research, or VIGOR, found that cardiovascular risk was increased by 500 percent for patients taking Vioxx compared to Naproxen.

Instead of pulling the drug from the shelves or immediately warning physicians and consumers of the risk, Merck initiated the most expensive and aggressive marketing campaign in the history of the pharmaceutical industry to boost the sales of its drug.  For more than two years, Merck aggressively marketed Vioxx and failed to change its label to include a warning to consumers of the safety risk of the drug.  From 2000-2002, the painkiller was linked to thousands of heart attacks and deaths. Merck denied any problems with its blockbuster drug at the time but when another study confirmed that drug caused severe cardiovascular problems, Merck was forced to initiate a worldwide recall of Vioxx.

In addition to the monetary settlement, injunctive relief targeted at preventing Merck from engaging in future deceptive marketing at the expense of consumers was also required.  “Hare Wynn worked with top notch attorneys from the Attorney General’s office and stellar local counsel in Montana to achieve this result on behalf of the consumers,” said Minner.

Hare Wynn’s governmental action team includes attorneys Matt Minner, Don McKenna, Scott Powell, Brian Vines and Tempe Smith.