NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 3, 2004

The millions of people worldwide who benefited from access to Vioxx (an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat arthritis and acute pain without the stomach irritation caused by other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are the real losers in the recall of the popular prescription pain reliever. But just try to tell that to the trial lawyers, says Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The evidence that Vioxx was dangerous was pretty slim, he says:

  • Over the course of a multiyear study that followed nearly 2,600 people, 45 of the patients taking Vioxx experienced heart attacks or strokes, compared to 25 people taking a placebo.
  • The number of people in each group who actually died was five.

But even though the death rate was equal, Merck & Co. took the extreme step of removing Vioxx from the market. The most likely reason for the withdrawal? To reduce the risk of medical liability, says Herrick. Already Merck has started setting up a reserve fund from which to pay future medical claims. Hundreds of people already have lined up to sue for damages.

  • Prior to its recall, about two million people worldwide were taking Vioxx.
  • It is estimated about 100 million people have taken it since it was approved about five years ago.
  • Future patients will be denied its benefits because Merck rationally chose not to risk losing billions of dollars in damage suits.

The ones who suffer the consequences are the patients, and they should be allowed to decide whether a drug like Vioxx is worth the risk, rather than having the decision made for them by other people's lawyers. What is truly unfortunate is that the only people to benefit from the development of lifesaving drugs removed from the market due to these lawsuits are the trial lawyers, concludes Herrick.

Source: Devon Herrick, "Merck's Vioxx Withdrawal Illustrates Power of Regulation by Trial Lawyers," Heartland Institute, December 1, 2004.


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