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Merck settles claims with 3 states over Vioxx

New Jersey pharmaceutical giant Merck announced last week that it has settled lawsuits with officials from three states who said they were misled about the safety of the painkiller Vioxx, according to Businessweek. The drug was reported to have caused almost 28,000 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths before it was recalled.

The state officials said Merck failed to adequately warn patients about the drug's increased risk of heart attack and stroke before pulling it off pharmacy shelves in 2004. Despite insisting then that the drug didn't cause heart attacks, Merck paid $4.85 billion to settle some 27,000 patient lawsuits, Businessweek reported.

The sum it will pay the states of New York, Florida and South Carolina has not been disclosed. But the lawsuit was filed by officials who said their governments paid for the drug through state-run health care programs after doctors were misled by Merck's claims that the drug was safe and effective.

One state failed in its attempt to recoup losses from its purchase of the painkiller. The same judge who decided in favor of the aforementioned states ruled earlier that Louisiana would not be reimbursed the $20 million it sought to recover from Merck. The settlements that New York, South Carolina and Florida received were part of the judge's attempt to resolve state claims over the drug, Businessweek reported.

In addition to the state settlements, Merck has agreed to pay almost $50 million to resolve lawsuits filed by former employees of the company over losses to their retirement funds in connection to the Vioxx recall.

As one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Merck won't be taken down by the Vioxx lawsuits. But the fallout has been significant and raised awareness by consumers of the potential dangers of even the most widely prescribed drugs.

Source: Businessweek, "Merck Agrees to Settle New York's, Florida's Vioxx Claims," Nov. 15, 2011

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