N.Y. officials file lawsuit against Merck over Vioxx

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg filed a joint lawsuit against Merck, the maker of Vioxx, for misrepresenting the dangers the drug posed to its users, in New York Supreme Court on Monday.

The civil suit seeks damages and civil penalties, as well as restitution for tens of millions of taxpayer dollars wrongfully spent on Vioxx prescriptions. The joint action marks the first time the state and city have collaborated to fight Medicaid fraud.

The accusations allege that Merck of Whitehouse Station, N.J., deliberately suppressed and concealed information about the seriousness of the cardiovascular risks associated with Vioxx, claiming that many prescriptions would never have been written had doctors been properly informed.

During Vioxx’s five-year span on the market, between 1999 and 2004, when it was pulled, Medicaid and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage spent more than $100 million on Vioxx prescriptions in New York State. For its Medicaid recipients, New York City paid a substantial share of those costs.

Regardless of its initial reports deeming Vioxx as high-risk to cardiovascular patients, the suit accuses Merck of waging an aggressive advertising campaign, which caused New York doctors to prescribe Vioxx to patients whose cardiovascular conditions made them especially susceptible to the drug’s negative effects.

“Drug companies are on notice that engaging in this type of behavior just isn’t worth it,” said Bloomberg.

Damages, expected to reach the tens of millions, will be determined at trial.