Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has sharply rebuked pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. of New Jersey for attempting an end-run around the state’s lawsuit accusing it of misrepresenting the safety of Vioxx. Merck is asking that the lawsuit be removed from state court to federal court.
Merck may try to run from the Texas courts, but they will not be able to hide from their scheme to misrepresent the safety of Vioxx to Texans, said Attorney General Abbott. The company is clearly trying to evade justice by using these delay tactics.
This is a major disappointment to the taxpayers of Texas, who deserve to be reimbursed for the companies wrongful scheme to defraud Medicaid. I urge Merck to stop evading their obligations. A Texas jury deserves to hear evidence of fraud in a Texas district court.
Abbott in turn filed a request for remand in court on the heels of Mercks filing, telling U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel that no federal issue exists to warrant such a venue change. The states suit contends the company failed to tell physicians and consumers that the painkilling prescription drug Vioxx might cause cardiovascular problems. The company also pushed to place Vioxx on the states Medicaid list for approved medicines, knowing this danger existed.
The attorney general alleges Merck aggressively marketed the drug to the medical community, and in doing so, willfully misrepresented its own studies and the concerns of physicians who suggested the drug might sharply increase the risk of heart problems.
The Texas Medicaid program reimbursed pharmacists $56 million for Vioxx prescriptions they filled for patients over a five-year period. Abbott is invoking a provision in state law that allows for that amount to be automatically tripled to $168 million, which Merck would have to pay to the state of Texas for acts of fraud.
Merck finally conceded the health concerns and voluntarily withdrew the product in September 2004, after aggressively marketing the drug since 1999.
The Texas lawsuit claims Mercks costly promotional campaign aimed to convince consumers the drug was not only safe, but that they should demand it from their health care professionals for pain.
The company also allegedly tried to intimidate or threaten physicians and researchers who questioned the safety of Vioxx. The company even routinely misrepresented or concealed published evidence, including its own, showing possible harmful effects of the drug, the suit charges.