There are tens of thousands of Vioxx victims and hundreds of Vioxx attorneys willing to help them with lawsuits against Merck. The irony is that while foreigners can do so, even in the US courts, all Americans themselves cannot do so. The reason: States like Michigan and Texas have passed laws that protect drug companies even if they make drugs that kill.
For instance, in Michigan, if the drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, then there is basically no case against the drugmaker. Plaintiffs can win damages only if they prove a company withheld or misrepresented information about a drug that would cause the FDA to not give or withdraw its approval. In Texas, drug makers are also protected from any liability as long as they can prove that any warnings of harmful side effects were provided to the FDA.
Now, this means that if the FDA was on the side of American people, they would have some hope. But since the day Vioxx was recalled, FDA has essentially tried to protect Merck, and through its inaction on Celebrex recall, Pfizer.
And that is not the end of the troubles facing American victims of Vioxx. President Bush is actively working on legislation that will essentially bring the laws in Michigan and Texas to all states by preventing American people from seeking punitive damages from the makers of Vioxx and Celebrex. While Vioxx attorneys have tried to soothe the nerves of Americans scared after a volley of attacks from Merck and the administration, lawmakers may go ahead with the legislation that will take away the right of American people to sue a drug company even if loved ones are dead or they are themselves permanently disabled or seriously injured. Voicing the concerns of Americans, Todd A. Smith, President, Association of Trial Lawyers of America, says, "The President pretends that taking away the legal rights of American families will reduce health care costs, while knowing that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has reported that even if all the costs of medical malpractice—all the payouts, all the insurance costs, all the medical expenses—were eliminated, the savings would be no more than one-half of one percent." He adds that protecting companies at the cost of American lives is not good public policy, "While perpetuating myths, President Bush unashamedly advocates legislation that would protect insurance industry profits and prohibit any punishment for the makers of dangerous drugs like Vioxx, while penalizing your mother for being abused in a nursing home or your daughter for having her baby killed by medical malpractice." He concludes by saying that the only people President Bush wants to help are the big insurance, tobacco, drug and chemical industries, and at the expense and safety of the American people. (Related article: Tough Vioxx litigation expected)
In the meantime, in a series of excellent investigative reporting by Melissa Davis of TheStreet, more facts are coming out about how Merck may have used Vioxx to push its sales and profits higher. And Merck leadership benefited from it. The company CEO, Raymond Gilmartin, now known for his callous attitude towards Americans and nationals of other countries killed by Vioxx, got a raise of $100,000 to $1.3 million and his bonus was increased to $1.7 million. How did Merck achieve remarkable financial performance? Through Vioxx, of course, which was aggressively marketed to unsuspecting people worldwide that it was the safest drug. Edward Scolnick, Merck's research director at the time, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, admitted that Vioxx was the company's savior. (Related article: Merck's attack on Vioxx victims increases its stock price)
At the same time, scientists were questioning the safety of Vioxx and other Cox-2 drugs. But Merck did not want anyone to question it or its research. In fact, as Melissa Davis reports, Gurkipal Singh, an adjunct professor of medicine at Stanford University, believes that Vioxx looked risky even before regulators approved it for public use. But when he approached Merck to conduct additional research, Merck threatened him. "I persisted in my inquiries and I was warned that if I continued in this fashion, there would be serious consequences for me," Singh said to Melissa Davis. "Subsequently, I learned that this was a persistent pattern of intimidation." Similar behavior was meted out to Dr. Eric Topol. In fact, Merck hired pseudo-consultants whose job was to defend Vioxx at medical conferences and in medical journals.
All this time, however, it is inconceivable to many Americans that FDA knew nothing about the problems with Vioxx. But the industry lobbyists working overtime and an administration extremely friendly to the drug industry, nothing was done as tens of thousands of Americans continued to die (Related article: Vioxx recall and Washington politicians). In fact, while Vioxx was killing people, Raymond Gilmartin along with other employees at Merck, and other drug companies were contributing millions of dollars to election campaigns of mostly Republicans.
Recommended article: Vioxx recall exposes the mess at the FDA