Vioxx (Rofecoxib), developed by Merck & Co., is a COX-2 nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Vioxx was typically prescribed to treat symptoms of osteoarthritis, painful menstrual cycles, and acute pain.
Even before controversy arose over the safety of Vioxx, there were complaints that it was not a cost-effective medication, with some doctors asserting that it was overprescribed for treatment of pain which could as easily be managed with less costly alternative medications.
The use of NSAID's is associated in some patients with serious problems from stomach ulcers, including bleeding, and also with liver damage. For a number of years, lawyers have claimed that Merck was aware of such symptoms in patients who were taking Vioxx. They also allege that Merck was aware that Vioxx causes heart problems and kidney damage in some patients. They asserted that Merck was deliberately suppressing information about Vioxx side effects from patients and physicians.
In recent years, two prominent medical journals published articles which associate Vioxx use with a significantly heightened risk of heart attack. Risk of heart attack is believed to be most likely to occur in patients who have taken Vioxx for fifteen months or longer.
In September, 2004, following a test intended to show that Vioxx could help prevent colon polyps, but which indicated that Vioxx users were twice as likely to suffer from heart attacks or strokes as compared to subjects receiving a placebo, Merck announced that it was voluntarily recalling Vioxx from the market.
Since the recall of Vioxx, a number of individual and class action lawsuits have been filed against Merck. It is expected that lawyers will assert that the recall of Vioxx validates their position that Vioxx was an unsafe medication, and that it was marketed irresponsibly to patients who could have obtained similar benefits from cheaper, safer medications. It is expected that Merck will use its voluntary recall as evidence to mitigate any claims for punitive damages.