Vioxx and Bextra Lawsuits Could Tie Up Courts for Years
In September, 2004, pharmaceutical giant Merck voluntarily withdrew its painkilling medication Vioxx from the market. Studies show that Vioxx increases the risk of heart attack and stroke among patients who have used the drug for longer than 18 months. Vioxx, a drug from a family of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs known as COX-2 inhibitors, is one of only a few drugs specifically designed to minimize inflammation while avoiding the stomach disorders long associated with other anti-inflammatory medications. Since its introduction in 1999, Vioxx has been a huge success, and sales of the drug worldwide topped $2.5 billion in 2003. That is certainly a great deal of money, but it pales when compared to the amount that Merck stands to lose through product liability lawsuits, which will soon come to court. As of this writing, several thousand lawsuits have been filed nationally, but attorneys estimate that the total number of lawsuits filed could reach a staggering 100,000.
One hundred thousand lawsuits is certainly a formidable number, but that figure could represent only half of the number of lawsuits related to COX-2 inhibitors. Earlier this year, Pfizer voluntarily withdrew its similar medication Bextra from the market, as studies linked the use of Bextra to increased heart attack risk and to a rare skin disorder known as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. Bextra, another drug in the family of COX-2 inhibitors, works very similarly to Vioxx, and many patients who formerly took Vioxx switched to Bextra after the former was removed from the market last fall. Given that sales of Bextra rose to near Vioxx levels before it was removed from the market, it seems likely that the number of lawsuits filed by patients who claim to have been harmed by their use of Bextra could eventually equal the number of Vioxx lawsuits.
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