Merck pharmaceutical company will pay $950 million to settle criminal and civil charges relating to the unapproved promotion of the painkiller Vioxx, as per the U.S. Justice Department.
The Justice Department alleged that Merck promoted the drug for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis prior to approval by the FDA for this condition in 2002. Merck agreed to pay a $321 million criminal fine and plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of illegally introducing a drug into interstate commerce, as stated by the Justice Department in a news release.
Merck also is paying $426 million to the federal government and $202 million to state Medicaid agencies. These payments will settle civil claims that its illegal marketing caused many doctors to prescribe Vioxx and bill the government where they otherwise would not have prescribed the painkiller. Physicians are free to prescribe drugs as they see fit, but pharmaceutical companies are prohibited from marketing any drug for uses except those approved by the FDA as being safe and effective. It is irresponsible of these pharmaceutical companies to ignore FDA rules and regulations that strive to keep the available medicines and treatments safe and effective. It is clear that the federal government no longer tolerates this behavior, and even though this is a multi-billion dollar industry, a $950 Million verdict is not pocket change by any means. Hopefully this will result in changes by these pharmaceutical companies.
In 2007, Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits by people who claimed they or a loved one suffered cardiac injury or death following use of Vioxx. Investors are also suing Merck claiming it played down Vioxx risk and danger and cost them billions of dollars in stocks after Vioxx was removed from the market. As of yesterday, Merck shares declined, dropping .97% to $33.81.
It is about time that these pharmaceutical companies are held accountable for their negligence and greed. But how many large settlements will it take for every pharmaceutical company to fall in line?