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It’s looking more and more likely that the Merck painkiller Vioxx, the blockbuster drug suspected of having caused more than 55,000 deaths from stroke and heart attack before being withdrawn from the market in 2004, actually killed many more people than we previously thought.

While conducting research on America’s media coverage of the Vioxx scandal, publisher of The American Conservative Ron Unz noticed some figures that seem to have escaped almost everyone else’s attention. The year Vioxx was introduced, 1999, showed the largest recent rise in American death rates. The year after Vioxx was pulled from the market, American death rates underwent a substantial and completely unexpected decline.

"We find the largest rise in American mortality rates occurred in 1999, the year Vioxx was introduced, while the largest drop occurred in 2004, the year it was withdrawn," says Unz. "Vioxx was almost entirely marketed to the elderly, and these substantial changes in the national death-rate were completely concentrated within the 65-plus population.

"The FDA studies had proven that use of Vioxx led to deaths from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, and these were exactly the factors driving the changes in national mortality rates."…

This drop corresponds to roughly 100,000 fewer deaths per year. The age-adjusted decline in death rates was considerably greater. –The Week

The numbers suggest that Vioxx may have caused more than 500,000 premature deaths. This is so far beyond the 3,468 that were named in Merck’s class action settlement for $4.85 billion in 2007 that it boggles the mind. Further investigation is clearly needed to determine just what effect Vioxx had on the almost uniquely elderly population that took it. And Merck needs to be held accountable for the colossal harms it has caused.

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