By Moe Taheri
November 29, 2011 – Last week Merck & Co. agreed to pay $321.6 million in criminal fines to resolve investigations into Merck’s illegal and fraudulent activities related to its pain killer Vioxx. Federal and state prosecutors alleged that Merck committed Medicare and Medicaid fraud and engaged in deceptive marketing and off-label promotion of Vioxx, most notably promoting Vioxx to treat rheumatoid arthritis before it was FDA-approved for such use. DOJ officials slammed Merck and other pharmaceutical companies for ignoring FDA rules which are the impetus of drug safety. Merck also agreed to pay $628.4 million in a civil settlement agreement.
Vioxx, a popular pain killer, was approved by FDA in 1999 only to be recalled in 2004 when it was linked with substantial cardiovascular risks. In 2007, Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle several thousand civil suits brought by Vioxx patients who had suffered cardiac injuries.
It is unfortunate that reckless and often criminal behavior has become standard operating procedure in the pharmaceutical industry. This sector must be held accountable and held to a high standard because of both the impact their products have on patients’ lives, and the enormous financial gains they enjoy from their product sales.