02:33 PM CDT on Thursday, June 30, 2005
AUSTIN — The state of Texas sued one of the nation’s largest drug companies Thursday, alleging Merck & Co. misrepresented the safety of the painkiller Vioxx.
State Attorney General Greg Abbott said Merck pushed to have Vioxx on the state’s list of approved medicine covered under Medicaid. The lawsuit seeks $168 million and says the company willfully misrepresented its studies and physicians’ concerns that the drug may increase the risk of heart problems and strokes.
“This is a prime example of a company’s drive for profit steamrolling its duty to be safe,” said Abbott, adding that Texas was the first state to sue Merck for Vioxx prescriptions covered by Medicaid.
Officials at Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck didn’t immediately respond when asked for comment Thursday.
Merck began marketing Vioxx in 1999 after brief clinical trials but voluntarily withdrew the drug in September when research showed that patients who took it for a year and a half or more doubled their risk for heart attack and stroke.
Abbott’s office said Texas pharmacists filled more than 700,000 Vioxx prescriptions for 178,000 patients under the Medicaid program at a cost of $56 million. State law allows Abbott to seek triple damages for acts of fraud.
The lawsuit, filed in Travis County district court, does not include Texans who received Vioxx through private health insurance plans, and the state — not individuals — will collect any judgment, Abbott said.
The state alleges Merck violated the Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act.
“The people of Texas have been cheated and defrauded by Merck,” Abbott said.