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Merck settles criminal charges on illegal Vioxx marketing, will pay $321M

Filed April 24th, 2012 Laurie

Drug giant Merck & Co. has been ordered to pay a $321 million fine to settle criminal charges for illegally marketing its failed and deadly painkiller Vioxx more than a decade ago.

Vioxx has been removed from the U.S. and worldwide markets since 2004 after it was linked to fatal heart attacks and strokes and thousands suffered these side effects before any warning was issued about them. Vioxx was only available for about five years and during that time Merck spent more time marketing the drug for more uses than it did on any safety studies.

The charges settled in a Boston federal court last week relate to Merck’s illegal marketing of Vioxx as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis before it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration specifically for that indication. While doctors are permitted to prescribe drugs for “off-label” treatments, it is illegal for a drug company to make those suggestions or actively market the drug for those reasons.

According to a Reuters report, the Dept. of Justice charged Merck specifically with marketing the heart safety of Vioxx when it held studies that indicated the complete opposite was true. Also, Merck was marketing Vioxx in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis for three years before it was approved by the FDA for that use.

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