Witness says Short-Term use of Vioxx causes Heart Attacks

posted on:
December 2, 2005

author:
Staff

An epidemiologist testifying here on behalf of the plaintiff in the first federal case to go to trial over Merck & Co.’s painkiller Vioxx defended his position that the drug can cause heart attacks when used in the short term.

He also said that Vioxx, which was developed to offer pain relief as well stomach protection, causes more adverse cardiovascular events than ulcers prevented.

During cross-examination of Wayne Ray, a professor of epidemiology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., Merck defense attorney Philip S. Beck showed jurors data from a 2002 study that appeared in the British medical journal, The Lancet, that suggested Vioxx, when taken in low doses, doesn’t significantly increase the rate of adverse cardiovascular events. The study recommended that long-term, high-dose Vioxx should be avoided.

In this first federal Vioxx case, Evelyn Irvin Plunkett is suing Merck over the 2001 death of her husband, Richard “Dicky” Irvin, who had a heart attack after taking Vioxx on and off for less than a month. Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market last year after a study linked the drug to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients taking the drug for 18 months or longer. The Whitehouse Station, N.J. company has said that there’s no conclusive scientific evidence that shows the drug can cause heart problems when taken in low doses in the short term.

Merck lost the first Vioxx trial a few months ago when a Texas jury awarded $253.4 million to the widow of a man who died after taking Vioxx. Merck came back last month to win a case in an Atlantic City courtroom.

While Mr. Ray was on the stand, Mr. Beck also showed jurors an April 2005 Food and Drug Administration memorandum that said that all drugs in the class of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs “doesn’t appear to confer an increased risk of serious adverse cardiovascular events.” Mr. Ray said he disagreed with the FDA memorandum and said that when viewed in total, all the Vioxx clinical safety data suggested the drug can cause heart attacks when taken in the short term.

Friday afternoon, Mr. Irvin’s daughters testified, one live and one by video deposition. They said their father was healthy, active and displayed no signs of illness before his fatal heart attack.

Mr. Irvin’s boss at a seafood wholesaler where he worked at the time of his death testified that Mr. Irvin was a hard worker who kept up with the rigors of a physically demanding job.

An economist also took the stand and told jurors he estimated the financial loss to Mrs. Irvin Plunkett and her youngest daughter was $402,373.

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