Vioxx Goes to Court

On the heels of a FDA panel's recent reapproval of Vioxx, tainted with obvious conflicts of interest, the toxicity of this COX-2 inhibitor will soon be debated in another public venue: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans.

Last Friday, some 220 attorneys jammed U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon's courtroom -- the largest in the courthouse -- to jockey for plum positions to assist in the coordination of various pretrial processes. Even so, some attorneys who attended the 80-minute hearing were forced to follow the proceedings via a loud speaker in a nearby room.

According to drugmarker Merck, almost 150 lawsuits have been moved to Fallon's court for litigation so far among more than 400 that will be transfered. Still, no one can estimate how many more suits will be considered (although 1,357 product liability lawsuits filed against Merck as of March 9). And, the financial exposure Merck may be liable for varies depends on the expert. Still, lawyers had plenty of reason to be in New Orleans, considering business analysts believe the fallout from these lawsuit could cost Merck as much as* $30 billion*! That's huge considering Vioxx only made $2.5 billion.

That could top the astronomical costs Wyeth has incurred for its lethal diet-drug combo fen-phen. Almost two-thirds of some $21 billion has already been paid for settlements alone.

After these pretrial hearings end, federal cases are returned to their original jurisdictions for trial. Merck had requested the cases be placed under one judge for pretrial motions so it isn't dealing with hundreds of similar cases in different courts. The first federal case could take a year to 18 months to go to trial because the number of cases and lawyers involved slows the process, according to experts. However, a pair of state cases is slated to begin in May in Ashland, Ala., and Angleton, Texas.

Is it possible conventional medicine may be finally get the hint toxic drugs like Vioxx are good for no anyone? I can only hope more professionals will soon embrace what my vision for a world free of quick fix cures really means: Treatments meant to heal -- not harm -- a patient's health or pocketbook.

Some safer, healthier ways to treat your pain:

The Times-Picayune March 19, 2005

Forbes.com March 18, 2005

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