An attorney for a woman whose husband died of a heart attack after taking Vioxx for a month told a jury Monday he will prove that the drug was to blame and that its maker hid the dangers.

But a lawyer representing drug company Merck & Co. argued that Richard “Dicky” Irvin’s heart attack was 30 years in the making, caused by a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels that had nothing to with Vioxx.

The arguments between Merck’s lawyer Phil Beck and Andy Birchfield, representing Irvin’s widow came on opening day in the retrial of the first federal civil suit over Vioxx. The first attempt ended with a hung jury.

An eight-member jury was seated Monday in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon who told jury pool members that at least six people are required for a federal civil trial, and he was seating eight for this one.

Fallon has told attorneys not to talk to reporters.

Birchfield told jurors that scientists for Merck & Co. suggested as early as 1996 that Vioxx might cause problems and the company held a big scientific meeting two years later to discuss those problems.

According to Birchfield, Merck scientists said during the 1998 meeting that Vioxx might cause plaque buildup and blood clots.

Birchfield said Irvin, of St. Augustine, Fla., had no prior health problems. “Follow the links that add up to: `Vioxx induced the heart attack that took Dickie Irvin’s life.’”

Beck said Merck gave all of its information on Vioxx to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that the FDA twice brought together committees of top scientists to look at the drug’s safety.

Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after a study showed it doubled patients’ risk of heart attack and strokes after 18 months of use. The company contends that no risk has been proved for shorter periods; attorneys for Irvin’s widow, Evelyn Irvin Plunkett, say they can prove that wrong.

Around 9,650 Vioxx lawsuits have been filed against Merck. Aside from the hung jury, Merck has won one case and lost another. An additional case is going on in state court in Texas.

The court had sent out notices to 200 potential jurors. With 61 of them reporting to Fallon’s courtroom, all available jury pool seats were filled.

Those dismissed included a man who said he couldn’t give video testimony the same weight as testimony in person. “I don’t trust people to start with, and I’ve been told all my life, `Don’t trust anything you see on TV.’”

The question whether prescription drug companies do a good job of monitoring safety of drugs once they are on the market prompted a diatribe from one man. “They don’t care what happens once they’re on the market,” he said. “You can have a judgment here, one there. The company still makes billions of dollars. They don’t care.”

Merck shares fell 56 cents to close at $33.83 Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.



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