Merck & Co., the drug maker defending about 27,000 lawsuits filed by users of the painkiller Vioxx, was accused in a Canadian lawsuit of failing to warn consumers its drug Fosamax may damage jaw bones, a law firm said. 

The Canadian law firm Siskinds said today it filed the first complaint over the drug in Canada. The lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court seeks class-action, or group status, on behalf of the drug's users, said Michael Peerless, a partner at the firm, in a statement.

"Merck will be required to explain to Canadian consumers what it knew about the risks associated with Fosamax,'' Peerless said. "We are concerned about whether Canadians were adequately warned of the risks.''

Merck, the fourth-biggest U.S. drug maker, has already been sued in U.S. courts over the risks associated with Fosamax and at least 19 lawsuits were transferred last year to a judge in New York. Complaints were filed in federal courts in states including New York, Florida and Tennessee.

Fosamax was approved for sale in Canada in 1995 to help treat osteoporosis. Use of the drug has been linked to an increased risk of developing osteonecrosis, also known as “jaw death,'' according to the Canadian law firm.

Merck spokeswoman Amy Rose didn't immediately respond to a telephone request for comment today, a holiday in the U.S. Merck has 40 days to file a statement of defense.

No Prior Issues

Fiona Peters, 45, the lead plaintiff, took the drug between October 2001 and August 2004 and was diagnosed with osteonecrosis of the jaw last year, according to the complaint.

"Peters had no prior issues with bone loss, or bone degradation,'' her lawyers said in the complaint. "Peters suffered from extreme physical pain resulting from the breakdown of her lower jaw bone.''

She will require further treatment and surgeries, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs are seeking C$1 million ($926,000) and medical costs for each person who was prescribed Fosamax. They're also seeking C$20 million in punitive damages.

Peerless said it's too early to determine how many Canadians may be involved in the suit.

Shares of White House Station, New Jersey-based Merck fell 5 cents to $53.70 on May 25 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.

The case is Between Fiona Peters and Merck Frosst Canada Ltd., 07-cv-333698C, Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Toronto). 



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