For the man in the eye of the Vioxx storm, it’s all over but the waiting.
As a jury deliberates his case against drug manufacturer Merck & Co., Frederick "Mike” Humeston wonders—about the verdict which could come Wednesday, about his mortality, about what’s in store for him and for others who say the painkiller did more than kill pain.
"I’m calm,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday night. "There’s only two entities that are going to judge me in this life. One is my God, and the other is this jury—and they’re temporary.”
Humeston, a soft-spoken 60-year-old postal worker, calls Boise, Idaho, home. Or at least he did until Sept. 12, when he and his wife, Mary, took up residence in a 27th-floor hotel room at Trump Marina Hotel Casino for the duration of the trial, now in its eighth week.
Since then, they’ve spent their days in Judge Carol Higbee’s courtroom, their nights eating dinner and watching TV, the courthouse-to-casino routine broken only by weekend drives through the southern New Jersey countryside or the occasional session at the penny slot machines.
"Up $60 so far,” said Humeston, his ruddy, weather-worn face breaking into a grin.
Humeston blames the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company’s drug for the heart attack he suffered Sept. 18, 2001. His case, which went to trial less than a month after a Texas jury returned a $253 million verdict for a Vioxx widow, is seen by some as a key indicator of what the future holds for Merck and its beleaguered Vioxx franchise.
Humeston, who has sat through all but one week of the trial in state Superior Court, has watched as Merck attorneys attacked his credibility, outlining his disputes with the U.S. Postal Service and discussing his blood pressure, weight and cholesterol levels. Merck contends Humeston hadn’t been using the drug long enough to be at risk, and that the company rigorously evaluated its safety before and after introducing it in May 1999. The company’s lawyers argued Humeston was stricken because he was overweight, had elevated blood pressure and was under considerable job stress.
Some of the testimony embarrassed Humeston, he says. He said he holds no ill will toward Merck, but he still refers to Vioxx as a "poison pill” that turned him from a "bulletproof” Idaho out doors man to nitroglycerin-packing weakling too frail to carry his own luggage.
"I felt like I’d been betrayed when I found Vioxx was the product it was in causing my heart attack. I was upset that in this day and age, things can happen this way. Pharmaceutical companies, I always held them up as an industry that was to help, that was professional.”
His lawsuit is no crusade, he said. Nor is it a treasure hunt, he said.
"I felt I had to take a stand for what I believed in,” Humeston said. "It was not about the money. My goal is not to punish Merck. That’s not why I’m here. My goal is to bring Merck’s attention to the fact that they haven’t seen the forest for the trees. I’d like nothing more than to have Merck be a better company tomorrow than it was yesterday.”
To do that, he says, the company has to make good with those who suffered because of Vioxx, he said.
"It’s the poison pill, and it’s caused me a lot of grief. And I don’t think it’s over.”