“All the Justice Money Can Buy” — A Book Review, Of The Vioxx® Affair


On this somber tenth anniversary of 9/11, we will take a slightly different, but very sobering, look backward — this time, at Vioxx® (one of my background posts, which links to others), from the perspective of the plaintiffs’ bar (as covered by an award-winning NPR reporter):

. . . .Vioxx was an immediate commercial success. In 2000, the first full year Vioxx was on the market, Merck spent $160 million on advertising, a sum greater than what PepsiCo, Inc. spent peddling soda, or Budweiser on beer. A sales force of 3,800 representatives touted the drug to doctors. Vioxx revenues bounced past the $1 billion mark; by 2003, they surpassed $2.7 billion, one–eighth of Merck’s total revenues. As Merck documents showed, according to Prakash, at the peak, “every dollar spent on the campaign was generating $4 in new Vioxx prescriptions.”

Then, disaster. A rash of heart attack deaths around the country, killing persons who were taking Vioxx, became a tidal wave. In addition to hundreds of individual personal injury cases around the country, plaintiff lawyers prepared to file class action suits in New Jersey, where Merck is based, and elsewhere.

Alarmed, Merck pulled Vioxx off the market in September 2004, a move that coincided with an alarming study showing that persons taking the drug suffered heart attacks and strokes at twice the rate of subjects given placebos. In a single day, Merck stock lost a quarter of its market value.

[NPR reporter] Prakash was “embedded” (to use the current journalistic term) with a team of plaintiff lawyers suing Merck in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, court on behalf of two men who had suffered heart attacks, allegedly because of Vioxx. One died, the other survived. With you–are–there immediacy, Prakash describes late–night conferences at which trial strategies were discussed. The author rides to and from the Atlantic City courthouse in plaintiff team vehicles, and she is privy to trial tactics and plans to discredit Merck witnesses. . . .

Do go read the DC Bar.org’s review, toward the bottom of the column — and if it strikes your fancy, do go buy the book on Amazon.

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